Super Rugby

Can Swys go one better than Lions legend Ackers?

Swys de Bruin (Gallo)
Swys de Bruin (Gallo)

Johannesburg - On the surface, it looks to be the dawn of a new era for the Lions as they plot the way forward in Super Rugby. 

Having finished as runners-ups for two straight years in 2016 and 2017, the Johannesburgers have since said goodbye to their coach and mentor Johan Ackermann.

A man who commanded respect from his players and peers, Ackermann transformed the once embattled Lions into the best Super Rugby side in the country. 

Under Ackermann, the Lions went from Super Rugby whipping boys to a side that oozed attacking enterprise and produced some of the most attractive rugby in the competition. 

With Ackermann now settling into his role at Gloucester, the Lions reins have been given to Swys de Bruin, who makes the step up from assistant coach to head coach. 

Whenever a new coach comes in, the expectation is that he will put his own footprint on the side. But De Bruin, who was Ackermann's right-hand man throughout the metamorphosis of the Lions, is not looking to do anything of the sort. 

Instead, he is looking to build on the work done under Ackermann.

"I don’t see it as a new cycle whatsoever," he told Sport24.

"I was here for five years with Ackers and so was the rest of our staff. Apart from the three young coaches that joined us (this season), it's exactly the same group of players.

"We lost Faf (De Klerk). He was a good player but never really a senior player and nor was Ruan Ackerman or Akker van der Merwe.

"Those are the three players we lost but the rest are all still here. All our Boks are still here and we’ve got a very good senior base of players."

Having pioneered an attacking style that the other South African sides have tried with little success to emulate over the past two seasons, De Bruin is expecting the Lions to be given stiffer competition from the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls this season. 

Having done almost everything right over the past two years without the ultimate reward, the Lions must now find a way to go one better and become the first South African side to win a Super Rugby title since the Bulls in 2010. 

"That’s the question, the big thing and the discussion we’ve been having with our senior players and Jannie Putter, our mental coach," De Bruin said.

"Those are the small margins we’ve got to get right now and that’s what we’re working on.

"In saying that, we’re going to do the same as the last two years and we are definitely still process driven, even more so than in the past.

"A few things have changed. The South African teams are much stronger and the competition is more strength versus strength. We’ve got some targets on our backs. Guys are coming for us now when they didn’t in the past. That’s a new challenge."

The Lions have added Niel de Bruin as their kicking and skills coach, Joey Mongalo as their backline coach and Philip Lemmer as their defence specialist. 

All of those new additions come from existing Lions structures, and that all lends itself towards the consistency that De Bruin is looking to breed at the union.

"There is definitely continuity. If I arrived here new, then it would have been the start of a new system, but it’s not," he said.

The Lions play their first match of the season on Saturday when they host the sharks at Ellis Park. Kick-off is at 17:15.

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