Lions secure 3 vital signatures as European future looms large

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Tiaan Swanepoel and Wandisile Simelane combined for the Lions' clinching try. (Gallo Images)
Tiaan Swanepoel and Wandisile Simelane combined for the Lions' clinching try. (Gallo Images)
  • The Lions announced three key contract extensions on Tuesday as they prepare for life in Europe.
  • Sti Sithole, Tiaan Swanepoel and Reinhard Nothnagel have all committed their futures to the franchise and play in positions considered important in those conditions.
  • Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions chief, admits that they'll have to tweak their player profile going forward.

With an inaugural campaign in Europe on the horizon, the Lions took a big step on Tuesday towards assembling a competitive squad by securing three key contract extensions.

The trio of prop Sti Sithole, lock Reinhard Nothnagel and utility back Tiaan Swanepoel have all committed their long-term futures to the franchise.

Importantly, they are players in positions and with skill-sets that should be perfectly suited to the heavier conditions expected in the Rainbow Cup and PRO16.

Sithole, 27, has become one of the most accomplished looseheads on the local circuit, not only improving on his ball-carrying and defensive capabilities but emerging as an outstanding scrummager.

Given that front-rowers generally mature later as players, his stay until the end of 2022 could prove vital.

Swanepoel's deal, meanwhile, is reward for becoming one of the Lions' cult heroes during last season's domestic campaign, particularly in the Currie Cup.

Following a humbling stint in Australian club rugby, the 25-year-old was snapped up as a proverbial bargain buy and eventually proved a massive hit at fullback.

Swanepoel showed enough attacking initiative to justify his suitability in his side's attacking game-plan yet added a new dimension to the Lions' product with his massive boot, consistently nailing kicks at goal over 50m.

As various opponents said during the Currie Cup, the former Matie has made the men from Ellis Park an even more dangerous side because he can punish ill discipline so ruthlessly.

Nothnagel's new deal is another feather in the Lions' cap in terms of promoting homegrown talent.

The 23-year-old former Junior Springbok is a Monument alumnus and has become a reliable and robust second rower whose importance has only grown following Marvin Orie's decision to join Western Province.

Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions' CEO, told Sport24 last week that the new European adventure is something that the franchise is embracing.

"It's something new and exciting. We already put building blocks in place to make us competitive in those conditions," he said.

"But we're also very much aware that we'll have to start adapting the profile of the players we target for recruitment or develop. The nature of the competition will be a bit different to what we were used to in Super Rugby."

It would seem that the Lions are off to a decent start in that regard.

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