This is now my 10th Super 15 preview for the season ahead, with the 2011 campaign starting on Friday I now only have five more teams to preview, but before I start on those I give my thoughts on the Lions…
Basically the Lions will be hoping that they do not finish bottom this time around, as the side from South Africa finished last season, at the bottom of the pile with just five points after losing all their matches. A record like that certainly doesn’t fair well going into a brand new structure of Super Rugby, the only thing which may stand them in good stead of not finishing bottom is, that league newcomers the Melbourne Rebels do not have the strongest side around. The South African conference could be a potential nightmare for them, as they have to play the reigning champions the Bulls, last season’s runners up the Stormers, and the ever so dangerous Sharks side twice this season, could they be the whipping boys again in 2011?
On a positive note though the Lions now have new owners, who have been willing to do there up most best to produce a side, that can be the surprise package of this year’s Super 15. The squad is packed with numbers, so they don’t have to worry about a lack of depth in the side; quite a few players have also been brought into the set-up, with Butch James and Lionel Mapoe being the best of a big bunch.
The Lions defence wasn’t up to scratch last season, but everything good came on the attack. New signings Rory Kockott and Andre Pretorius will be key players, after they were snapped up from the Natal Sharks. The two main men though will be both fly-halfs in the names of Elton Jantijes and Bath player Butch James. Jantijes is only 20 years of age but he was one of the stand out stars for the Lions last year, as he was able to break himself into the South Africa national side, his attacking flair will be so good to watch.
Meanwhile Butch James will join the Lions later in the season, after the Aviva Premiership season finishes. James has a point to prove but his all round skills, will really help a bright young side in the Lions to mature as a group, with experience like James in the camp the side who finished 14th last season may be turning a new corner, as they intend to attract top players to the Ellis Park Stadium.
The Lions are a big unit but they haven’t really performed well in the last couple of years, 2011 could be a big year for the side from Johannesburg. With new owners coming in aswell as a host of new signings, the Lions are moving in a slow but positive direction, even though I think that the side still isn’t strong enough they could well pull a few fireworks out of the hat, you just have to wait and see what this team brings to this year’s Super 15.