Super Rugby

Lions bringing back Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrinck?

Ruan Combrinck (Gallo)
Ruan Combrinck (Gallo)
  • Springboks Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrick could be back at Ellis Park, Sport24 understands.
  • The duo were part of the Lions' three-year run where they made the Super Rugby final before leaving for French club Stade Français.
  • The Lions lost star hooker Malcolm Marx and promising youngster Tyrone Green during the 21-day transfer window and are working hard to fill various voids in the squad.

The Lions are interested in bringing back former Springbok outside backs Lionel Mapoe, 31, and Ruan Combrinck, 30, to Ellis Park, Sport24 has learnt.

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The pair were part of the team that took the Lions to three successive Super Rugby finals before both took their talents to Paris-based French club Stade Francais.

The Johannesburg franchise was one of the biggest losers of the recent 21-day opt out transfer window - part of SA Rugby's Industry Strategic Plan to cushion the financial blow caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

They lost star Rugby World Cup-winning hooker Malcolm Marx, who used the exit clause to walk out of his new Lions contract that was set to begin this July. Marx is said to be going back to Japan, where he had a sabbatical right after the Springboks' triumph in the same country last year.

The Lions were also dealt a heavy blow when promising 22-year-old fullback/wing Tyrone Green left for English club Harlequins, using the same opt-out clause as Marx and various other players from different South African franchises.

In the same period, assistant coach Neil de Bruin as well as forward Ruan Vermaak and flyhalf Shaun Reynolds also left.

The two positives in Johannesburg were that captain Elton Jantjies, who was courted in France, chose to remain home as well as prodigious outside centre Wandisile Simelane, who was one of the most sought-after players during the 21-day trolley dash.

Mapoe's and Combrinck's representatives said the backs would be open to moves back to South Africa, especially to their old franchise, however, the Lions had yet to put concrete offers on the table for their services.

Sport24 understands that Mapoe's Stade Francais contract expires around June next year and it would take some negotiation with the French to allow for his early release.

As things stand, the Lions are thin on experience already, despite bringing back Jannie du Plessis (37) and Willem Alberts (36) earlier this year. They also moved quickly to bring Bulls wing Divan Rossouw and young flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse from Western Province.

Those recruits would, however, need time to assimilate to the Lions culture, which hasn't been possible because of government lockdown restrictions.

If rugby returns as soon as August (according to SA Rugby’s most optimistic estimates), the Lions will have another rebuilding job on their hands, like at the start of this year's stunted Super Rugby campaign.