SA rugby built on 'solid foundations'
SA rugby built on 'solid foundations'SHARE
The Lions had their first stumble, as the Bulls exposed certain flaws in their game plan at the weekend.
However, despite a naive display in which they were tactically outmaneuvered by a more astute and hard-boiled Bulls outfit, the Lions are busy proving a very valuable point.
Despite the 17-25 defeat in Pretoria, the Lions have showed they have the core of a squad that could still produce a few more upsets along the way during the 2014 Super Rugby season – as they did in Weeks One (against the Cheetahs) and Two (Stormers).
Veteran lock Franco van der Merwe, who turns 31 in less than a fortnight, is the first to admit the men from Johannesburg have a long way to go yet.
But it is the youthful nature of the team, and the pack in particular, that suggests there is a bright future awaiting those based at Ellis Park.
"It was quite interesting when I saw the statistics for our first game [against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 15]," Van der Merwe told this website in an interview.
"It [the stats] showed that our tight five had 93 Super Rugby caps as a unit, all 93 behind my name."
In fact Van der Merwe is also the only player in that same tight five that is older than 24 – with fellow lock Franco Mostert just 23, to go along with props Julian Redelinghuys (24) and Schalk van der Merwe (23), with hooker Robbie Coetzee 24.
"We may have a very inexperienced team, but it shows that the structures and foundations of rugby in South Africa is very solid," the veteran lock told this website.
"Competitions like the Varsity Cup, Community Shield [for non-university clubs], the Vodacom Cup, the First Division provincial competition and Currie Cup [Premier Division] all bring through great players.
"We have players who have come through the Varsity Cup, guys who have played Vodacom Cup [rugby], some with a bit of Currie Cup experience and then there are a handful of guys with a few Super Rugby games.
"These are guys who have come through the systems [in SA] and have now been given an opportunity to play Super Rugby.
"The three front row players have now played three games together, which is great for them."
The entire Lions pack is the product of these systems Van der Merwe made reference to.
No.8 and captain Warren Whiteley, still just 26, has come through the Lions systems and made his Super Rugby debut back in 2011- making him one of the team's 'veterans'.
Flank Warwick Tecklenburg, who moved to the Lions after being surplus to requirements at the Bulls, played in the Varsity Cup competition for the University of Pretoria.
Fellow flank Jaco Kriel, another player still just 24, played Varsity Cup for the University of Johannesburg.
Van der Merwe himself has featured in 96 Super Rugby games since 2007 after having started out with the Leopards at age-group and Vodacom Cup level.
Fellow lock Franco Mostert (23) is another Varsity Cup product who was surplus to requirement in Pretoria.
Tighthead prop Julian Redelinghuys (24), a former SA Schools and SA Under-20 player, is a product of the Lions' systems and went to Monument High in Krugersdorp.
Hooker Robbie Coetzee (24) is another product of the Tukkies Varsity Cup system in Pretoria.
While loosehead prop Schalk van der Merwe (23), a SA Schools player in 2008, played Varsity Cup rugby for Shimlas (Free State University) in Bloemfontein.
Van der Merwe said that while it is early days yet and the Lions team has a long way to go, the signs are promising.
"It is amazing how the players bought into the system [at the Lions][, are playing for each other, show a passion for the game, have pride in the jersey and simply don't give up," he told this website.
"They don't complain and just keep going.
"We train at Johannesburg Stadium with its fine facilities, but when we have to go to club fields and other lesser facilities the guys won't complain.
"The guys get on with the job and they enjoy doing it."
By Jan de Koning