Li­ons need to change

In­com­ing coach De Bruin has to give black play­ers op­por­tu­ni­ties to play

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN Com­ment

SWYS de Bruin takes charge of the Li­ons as head coach for the first time this week. And his num­ber one pri­or­ity in the com­ing weeks and months is to en­sure the Li­ons be­come a trans­formed rugby side.

Out­go­ing coach Jo­han Ack­er­mann – who will join up with his new team, Glouces­ter, this week – achieved many highs dur­ing his five years in charge, but his Li­ons team re­mained largely un­trans­formed; pos­si­bly the only blight on his time in Joburg.

Sure, Ack­er­mann didn’t win the Su­per Rugby ti­tle, but his team played in back-to-back fi­nals, and the Li­ons recorded sev­eral firsts dur­ing his time in charge. No one will be able to say it wasn’t a suc­cess­ful five years for the former Spring­bok lock, but there is a strong ar­gu­ment that he didn’t do much to help na­tional coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee – or even Heyneke Meyer be­fore him – when it comes to reach­ing trans­for­ma­tion tar­gets.

The re­al­ity is Coet­zee has to have 50 per­cent black player rep­re­sen­ta­tion in his Bok side for the 2019 World Cup in Ja­pan and so to achieve this he’ll need every Su­per Rugby fran­chise in the coun­try to give black play­ers a fair op­por­tu­nity to get into the Bok team.

Ack­er­mann only reg­u­larly picked backs Court­nall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe and El­ton Jan­tjies dur­ing the Su­per Rugby cam­paign. Syl­vian Mahuza, who warmed the bench for much of the sea­son, made it four black play­ers out of 23. That is sim­ply not good enough.

Ma­dosh Tambwe filled in on the wing un­til Ruan Com­brinck re­turned from in­jury and he showed prom­ise, but never got much of a look-in af­ter the Bok winger nailed down his spot again, while An­thony Volmink, Fabian Booy­sen, Sti Sit­hole and lock re­cruit from the Bulls, Marvin Orie, hardly got an op­por­tu­nity. Howard Mnisi spent the en­tire cam­paign on the side­lines be­cause of in­jury, but he did play reg­u­larly last year.

When com­pared to the Storm­ers, Bulls, Sharks, Kings and Chee­tahs, the Li­ons have sim­ply not done their bit to help the Bok boss and do what is morally the right thing to do.

It’s now up to De Bruin to “fix” what Ack­er­mann ne­glected.

“I trust in Swys and be­lieve he can take this team fur­ther, to the next step,” said Ack­er­mann, af­ter Sat­ur­day’s Su­per Rugby fi­nal, of the man re­plac­ing him as head coach. “He’s got a qual­ity group of play­ers to sup­port­ing him.”

That is, in­deed, the case even if the likes of Faf de Klerk and Akker van der Merwe have been lost to Li­ons rugby, and there could be a few more men head­ing else­where. Ack­er­mann’s son, Ruan, is ru­moured to be in line to team up with his fa­ther in Glouces­ter.

Also, the Li­ons will now sol­dier on, in the Cur­rie Cup, with­out sev­eral first choice play­ers who’ll ei­ther be in­volved with the Spring­boks dur­ing the Rugby Cham­pi­onship or head to Ja­pan to play there un­til early next year.

But the Cur­rie Cup af­fords De Bruin a chance to try new play­ers and test dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions. The good news for him, at this stage, is that Ruan Com­brinck, Harold Vorster, Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg and Ruan Dreyer didn’t crack a Bok call-up for the start of the Cham­pi­onship.

Trans­form­ing the Li­ons team though should be up there as pri­or­ity num­ber one for De Bruin. And just look­ing at the men who turned out for the Li­ons in their Cur­rie Cup game against the Bulls last the week­end there are enough qual­ity play­ers to pick, among them Tambwe, Volminck, Booy­sen, Orie, Sit­hole, An­drew Beer­winkel, Ashlon Davids, Aphiwe Dyan­tyi, Bobby de Wee and Hacji­vah Dayimani.

South African rugby sup­port­ers will be watch­ing the Li­ons very closely in the com­ing weeks and months. They sim­ply have to do more when it comes to trans­for­ma­tion.

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