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New dawn for Lions

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“This match will give us a good indication of where we are as a team, so it’s a game we’re looking forward to.”

Andries Coetzee of the Lions in action against the Reds at Ellis Park last weekend. Picture: Gavin Barker BackpagePix

How things have changed in the Lions team since they beat the Stormers in Super Rugby at Ellis Park in May last year.

Three days out from their first meeting since that day – when the Lions triumphed 41-22 – the Lions are a team with a new coach in Ivan van Rooyen, and several big-name players missing from the squad.

It is sure to make this weekend’s match that much more difficult for the former three-time competition runners-up.

Gone and no longer available to the Lions are Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Kwagga Smith, Stephan Lewis, Malcolm Marx, Ruan Combrinck, Nic Groom, Jacobie Adriaanse, Sylvian Mahuza and Warren Whiteley – all senior players who featured in last year’s win at Ellis Park and in other big recent derbies between the sides.

Ross Cronjé and Cyle Brink also featured for the Lions in their victory last year but have yet to turn out for the Lions this season because of injury.

It is very much a new-look side that will welcome 2020’s form team to Ellis Park on Saturday, something one of the seasoned men who remain in the Lions set-up, Andries Coetzee, was still getting used to.

“I think of a guy like Lionel Mapoe, we played together here for eight years,” said Coetzee, 29, and set to play his 96th Super Rugby game for the Lions on Saturday.

“The big thing is you miss the guys who you’ve been on this journey with,” added Coetzee, who has gone through the good and the bad of the Lions since making his debut in 2012.

Adaptation

He was still a rookie when the Lions were relegated from Super Rugby in 2013 and he was part of all three finals campaigns in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He also became the Springbok fullback in this time.

“It has been an adaptation (getting used to the new players),” he added, “but the coaches have made it a nice environment to work in where we have all gotten to know the new guys better.

“They’ve really created a good vibe and spirit, and everyone gets on. There are no big-heads, everyone is equal.”

Unlike in last year’s corresponding fixture against the Stormers when Coetzee had the likes of Mapoe, Smith and Marx to look to for assistance in leading the Lions, all that’s left in proper experience, beside the fullback, are Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Marvin Orie, Dylan Smith and, if they play, Jannie du Plessis, who is new to the Lions set-up, and Cronjé, who has been struggling with injury.

“We’re still a young team so we’re happy about the win last week (against the Reds),” said Coetzee, “but we know this week will be one of our biggest challenges.”

An unbeaten Stormers team will be the favourites away from home, but Coetzee said the fact the Capetonians hadn’t conceded a point yet – to the Hurricanes and the Bulls – gave them plenty to think about.

“We’ve discussed what the Stormers have done up to now and we believe we can be the first team to put points on the board against them.

“Look, it’s a massive achievement by them and not a lot of teams will be able to do what they’ve done so far, not with the quick game you get in Super Rugby, but we’ll take it minute by minute and look to put plenty of pressure on them.

“It’s an SA derby, and we’re pumped up.

“This match will give us a good indication of where we are as a team, so it’s a game we’re looking forward to.”

With a good few rookies in the Lions’ back division, Coetzee has a big role to play as one of the team’s leaders.

The side for Saturday’s match will be named today.