- It's been all about the rookies at Ellis Park these past few weeks as the Lions gradually return to training for the new season.
- Head coach Ivan van Rooyen said the senior coaching staff have been working exclusively with the next generation of stars as the seniors still enjoy a break.
- It might prove to be valuable time spent together as the current domestic schedule suggests depth will be tested.
The past two weeks have been all about youth at Ellis Park.
With the majority of the Lions' senior squad only slated to return to training in two blocks - 15 and 21 February - the designated corridors of the iconic stadium has been filled with youngsters.
"The guys that weren't involved in the Currie Cup, essentially the majority of the more junior players," have been training said Ivan van Rooyen, the Lions' head coach.
"We gave them the whole of January off, so they started at the beginning of this month."
As innocuous as it might sound, the 14-day period could prove particularly useful for both the next generation of franchise stars and the senior coaching staff.
"It's very important for the younger players who haven't played a lot of rugby recently to get going again," said Van Rooyen, whose charges enjoyed an encouraging 2020/21 domestic campaign that culminated in yet another Currie Cup semi-final appearance.
"They need to reach a level of conditioning and fitness that we believe is good enough for withstanding the rigours of senior rugby.
"But what's been really fun is having them catch up on some detail in terms of the direction we're going and how we want to play. It's a good three weeks they would've had exclusive with the coaches."
While the need to nurture youth in any context is obvious, the Lions' have an even bigger incentive given that they had a gifted group of juniors last year that reached the final of SA Rugby's Under-21 Championship.
Captain Francke Horn already graduated to the senior squad in the latter stages of the Currie Cup, while other stars such as Asenathi Ntlabakanye (prop), Emmanuel Tshituka (lock), Runaldo Pedro (scrumhalf) and Luke Rossouw (centre) made their marks.
Appearances in the Rainbow Cup and even PRO16 might not be on the cards immediately, but with a still-to-be-confirmed SA Cup (which will serve as qualification for the Currie Cup) expected to stretch depth to the max, rookies' presence will become important.
Meanwhile, the staggered approach to a return to training is to make it easier to adhere to Covid-19 protocols.
"Once we're back in full swing there's hopefully a full calendar till June 2022 to look forward to," said Van Rooyen.
"It should be exciting."