|Southland v North Harbour||Rugby Park, Invercargill||24-Aug||7:35 PM|
1 Joseph Walsh, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 3 Guy Millar, 4 Michael McKee, 5 Bill Fukofuka, 6 Phil Halder, 7 Tim Boys, 8 Elliot Dixon, 9 Liam Howley, 10 Scott Eade, 11 Aleki Morris, 12 James Schrader, 13 Matthew Johnson, 14 Ryan Tongia, 15 Lewis Ormond
Reserves: 16 Flynn Thomas, 17 Shaun Stodart, 18 Morgan Mitchell, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Tupou Sopoaga, 21 Jay Renton, 22 Michael Molloy, 23 William Talataina-Mu
1 Nic Mayhew, 2 James Parsons, 3 Michael Tamoeaieta, 4 Brandon Nansen, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 6 Glenn Preston, 7 Connor Collett, 8 Murphy Taramai, 9 Bryn Hall, 10 Bryn Gatland, 11 Tevita Li, 12 Harrison Groundwater, 13 Matt Vaega, 14 Matt Duffie, 15 Shaun Stevenson
Reserves: 16 Adrian Smith, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Shane Neville, 20 Josh Tyrell, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Mark Telea, 23 Ben Volavola
|Bay of Plenty v Hawke’s Bay||Rotorua International Stadium||25-Aug||5:45 PM|
1 Aidan Ross, 2 James O'Reilly, 3 Ziggy Fisi'ihoi, 4 Tom Franklin, 5 Keepa Mewett (c), 6 Hugh Blake, 7 Mitch Karpik, 8 Tyler Ardron, 9 Richard Judd, 10 Mike Delany, 11 Joe Webber, 12 Terrence Hepetema, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 14 Monty Ioane, 15 Chase Tiatia
Reserves: 16 Seb Siataga, 17 Solomona Sakalia, 18 James Lay, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Luke Campbell, 22 Liam Steel, 23 Elijah Nicholas
1 Jason Long, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 3 Pouri Rakete-Stones, 4 Michael Allardice, 5 Nick Palmer, 6 Geoff Cridge, 7 Fa'alemiga Selesele, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, 9 Chris Eaton, 10 Ihaia West, 11 Sam McNicol, 12 Richard Buckman, 13 Cardiff Vaega, 14 Hayden Hann, 15 Tiaan Falcon
Reserves: 16 Jacob Devery, 17 Mark Braidwood, 18 Mason Kean, 19 Josh Eden-Whaitiri, 20 Ben Hamelink, 21 Zac Donaldson, 22 Pasqualle Dunn, 23 TJ Vaega
|Waikato v Counties Manukau||FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton||25-Aug||7:45 PM|
Zac Guildford, Tyler Campbell, Bailyn Sullivan, Dwayne Sweeney (c), Sevu Reece, Sam Christie, Pele Cowley; Jordan Manihera, Mitch Jacobson, Luke Jacobson, James Tucker, Jacob Skeen, Sefo Kautai, Hame Faiva, Loni Uhila
Reserves: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ayden Johnstone, Joshua Iosefa-Scott, Leva Fifita, Adam Burn, Harrison Levien, Tevita Taufui, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara
15 Luteru Laulala, 14 Nigel Ah-Wong, 13 Sam Furniss, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Augustine Pulu (c); 8 Sam Henwood, 7 Fotu Lokotui, 6 Ronald Raaymakers, 5 Matiaha Martin, 4 Jimmy Tupou (c), 3 Kalolo Tuiloma, 2 Gafatasi Su'a, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: 16 Joe Royal, 17 Sean Bagshaw, 18 Coree Te Whata-Colley, 19 Leroy Jack, 20 Viliami Taulani, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Orbyn Leger, 23 Tevita Nabura
|Wellington v Taranaki||Westpac Stadium, Wellington||26-Aug||2:35 PM|
Trent Renata, Julian Savea, Wes Goosen, Regan Verney, Ben Lam, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Du'Plessis-Kirifi, Brad Shields (c), James Blackwell, Sam Lousi, Alex Fidow, Asafo Aumua, Tolu Fahamokioa
Reserves: Sitiveni Paongo, Vince Sakaria, Joe Apikotoa, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Galu Taufale, Sheridan Rangihuna, Dan Kirkpatrick, Malo Tuitama
Marty McKenzie, Declan O'Donnell, Sean Wainui, Charlie Ngatai (c), Seta Tamanivalu, Stephen Perofeta, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Toa Halafihi, Adrian Wyrill, Lachlan Boshier, Leon Power, Leighton Price (c), Angus Ta'avao, Sione Lea, Mitchell Graham
Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Jared Proffit, Mike Kainga, Brad Tucker, Fin Hoeata, Kylem O'Donnell, Johnny Fa'auli, Waisake Naholo
|Auckland v Northland||Eden Park, Auckland||26-Aug||4:35 PM|
Jordan Trainor, Vince Aso, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Caleb Clarke, Daniel Bowden, Jono Hickey; Blake Gibson, Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray, Samuel Slade, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu, Marcel Renata, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Sam Prattley
Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Dexter Fa'amoana, Ben Nee-Nee, Josh Kaifa, Leon Fukofuka, TJ Faiane, Otumaka Mausia
1 Howard Sililoto, 2 Matt Moulds, 3 Namatahi Waa, 4 Tim Bond, 5 Murray Douglas, 6 Jack Ram, 7 Kara Pryor, 8 Dan Pryor, 9 Sam Nock, 10 Peter Breen, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 12 Tamati Tua, 13 Jack Goodhue, 14 Rene Ranger, 15 Matt Wright
Reserves: 16 Jordan Olsen, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Ropate Rinakama, 19 Joshua Goodhue, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Malcolm MacLeod, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Jone Macilai
|Manawatu v Tasman||Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North||27-Aug||2:35 PM|
15 Kurt Baker, 14 Ambrose Curtis, 13 Lewis Marshall, 12 Curtis Reid/ Hamish Northcott, 11 Willy Ambaka, 10 Otere Black, 9 Kayne Hammington; 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (c), 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Tom Parsons, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Hunter Prescott, 1 Fraser Armstrong
Reserves: 16 Tim Cadwallader, 17 Tuki Raimona, 18 Sean Paranihi, 19 Liam Hallam-Eames, 20 Brice Henderson, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Jade Te Rure, 23 Newton Tudreu
15 Will Jordan, 14 James Lowe/Viliami Lolohea, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Trael Joass, 11 Tima Faingaanuku, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Alex Ainley (captain); 3 Isaac Salmon, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Tim Perry
Reserves: Brendan Asomua-Goodman, Tom Hill, Jack Straker, Pari Pari Parkinson, Vernon Fredericks, Billy Guyton, Tim O'Malley, Levi Aumua
|Canterbury v Otago (RS)||AMI Stadium, Christchurch||27-Aug||4:35 PM|
George Bridge, Poasa Waqanibau, Tim Bateman, Rob Thompson, Josh McKay, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Luke Whitelock (c), Matt Todd, Reed Prinsep, Dominic Bird, Mitchell Dunshea, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Nathan Vella, Alex Hodgman, Oliver Jager, Tom Sanders, Billy Harmon, Ere Enari, Brett Cameron, Braydon Ennor
Vilimoni Koroi, Mitchell Scott, Sio Tomkinson, Tei Walden, Jona Nareki, Josh Ioane, Jonathan Ruru, Adam Knight, James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Josh Dickson, Blair Tweed, Donald Brighouse, Sam Anderson-Heather, Aki Seiuli
Reserves: Sekonaia Pole, Craig Millar, Hisa Sasagi, Josh Furno, Sione Teu, Josh Renton, Fletcher Smith, Leroy van Dam
|North Harbour v Otago||QBE Stadium, North Harbour||17-Aug||7:35 PM|
1 Chris Eves, 2. James Parsons (cc), 3. Mike Tamoaieta, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5. Jarrad Hoeata, 6. Glenn Preston, 7. Connor Collett, 8. Murphy Taramai, 9 Chris Smylie, 10. Bryn Gatland, 11. Tevita Li, 12. Dan Hilton-Jones, 13. Matt Vaega, 14. Matt Duffie (cc), 15. Shaun Stevenson
Reserves: 16 Adrian Smith, 17. Mark Royal, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19. Brandon Nansen, 20. Josh Tyrell, 21. Lewis Gjaltema, 22. Mark Telea, 23. Ben Volavola
Vilimoni Koroi, Mitchell Scott, Matt Faddes, Tei Walden, Sio Tomkinson, Fletcher Smith, Josh Renton, Sione Teu, James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Tom Rowe, Blair Tweed, Donald Brighouse, Sam AndersonHeather (captain), Aki Seiuli
Reserves: Sekonaia Pole, Craig Millar, Giorgio Bower, Josh Dickson, Adam Knight, Jonathan Ruru, Josh Ioane, Jona Nareki
|Tasman v Canterbury||Trafalgar Park, Nelson||18-Aug||7:35 PM|
15 James Lowe, 14 Tima Faingaanuku, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Trael Joass, 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Billy Guyton; 8 Shannon Frizell, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Alex Ainley (c), 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Tim Perry.
Reserves: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Tom Hill, 18 Kane Hames, 19 Tone Ng Shiu, 20 Willis Scott, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Tim O'Malley, 23 Levi Aumua
George Bridge, Poasa Waqanibau, Tim Bateman, Rob Thompson, Josh McKay, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Luke Whitelock (c), Jed Brown, Tom Sanders, Dominic Bird, Mitchell Dunshea, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Nathan Vella, Alex Hodgman, Oliver Jager, Reed Prinsep, Billy Harmon, Jack Stratton, Brett Cameron, Caleb Makene
|Hawke’s Bay v Southland||McLean Park, Napier||19-Aug||2:35 PM|
15: Tiaan Falcon 14: Hayden Hann 13: Cardiff Vaega 12: Richard Buckman 11: Mason Emerson 10: Ihaia West 9: Chris Eaton 8: Gareth Evans 7: Tony Lamborn6: Marino Mikaele-Tuu 5: Geoff Cridge 4: Michael Allardice 3: Mason Kean 2: Ash Dixon 1: Jason Long
Reserves: Jacob Devery, Mark Braidwood, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Nick Palmer, Hugh Renton, Zac Donaldson, Pasqualle Dunn, TJ Vaega
1 Joseph Walsh, 2. Brayden Mitchell (C). 3.Guy Millar, 4. Mike McKee, 5. Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 6. Phil Halder, 7. Tim Boys, 8. Elliot Dixon, 9 Liam Howley, 10. Scott Eade, 11 Mike Molloy, 12. Matthew Johnson, 13. Neria Fomai, 14. Ryan Tongia, 15. Lewis Ormond
Reserves: Flynn Thomas, Shaun Stodart, Morgan Mitchell, Tepasu Thomas, Bill Fukofuka, Greg Dyer, James Schrader, Aleki Morris
|Taranaki v Waikato||Yarrow Stadium, Taranaki||19-Aug||5:05 PM|
Marty McKenzie, Declan O'Donnell, Sean Wainui, Charlie Ngatai (c), Seta Tamanivalu, Stephen Perofeta, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Toa Halafihi, Lachlan Boshier, Pita-Gus Powakula, Leon Power, Leighton Price, Angus Ta'avao, Sione Lea, Mitchell Graham.
Reserves: Donald Maka, Jared Proffit, Mike Kainga, Brad Tucker, Adrian Wyrill, Logan Crowley, Beaudein Waaka, Latu Vaeno
Zac Guildford, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, Bailyn Sullivan, Dwayne Sweeney (c), Sevu Reece, Sam Christie, Pele Cowley; James Tucker, Mitch Jacobson, Jordan Manihera, Leva Fifita, Jacob Skeen, Sefo Kautai, Hame Faiva, Latu Talakai
Reserves: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ayden Johnstone, Joshua Iosefa-Scott, Luke Jacobson, Adam Burn, Harrison Levien, Tevita Taufui, Tyler Campbell
|Counties Manukau v Auckland||Ecolight Stadium, Pukekohe||19-Aug||7:35 PM|
Luteru Laulala, NIgel Ah Wong, Sam Furniss, Stephen Donald, Tim Nanai-Williams, Baden Kerr, Augustine Pulu (c), Sam Henwood, Fotu Lokotui, Ronald Raamakers, Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Kalolo Tuiloma, Gafatasi Su'a, Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: Joe Royal, Sean Bagshaw, Coree Te Whata-Colley, Daymon Leasuasu,, Viliami Taulani, Jonathan Taumateine, Orbyn Leger, Kalione Hala
15 Jordan Trainor, 14 Vince Aso, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 George Moala, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Daniel Bowden, 9 Jono Hickey, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Samuel Slade, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 1 Sam Prattley
Reserves: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Dexter Fa’amoana, 19 Ben Nee-nee, 20 Jamason Fa’anana-Shultz, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Otumaka Mausia, 23 TJ Faiane
|Northland v Bay of Plenty||Toll Stadium, Whangarei||20-Aug||2:35 PM|
Matt Wright, Jordan Hyland, Rene Ranger, Tamati Tua, Solomon Alaimalo, Dan Hawkins, Sam Nock, Dan Pryor, Kara Pryor, Murray Douglas, Tim Bond, Josh Goodhue, Namatahi Wa'a, Matt Moulds, Howard Sililoto
Reserves: Jordan Olsen, Ross Wright, Ropate Rinakama, Jack Ram, Matt Matich, Malcolm MacLeod, Peter Breen, Jone Macilai
1.Aidan Ross, 2.James O'Reilly, 3.Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 4.Tom Franklin, 5.Keepa Mewatt, 6.Hugh Blake, 7.Mitchell Karpik, 8.Tyler Ardon, 9.Richard Judd, 10.Mike Delany, 11.Joe Webber, 12.Terrence Hepetema, 13.Lalakai Foketi, 14.Monty Ioane, 15.Chase Tiatia
Reserves: 16.Seb Siataga, 17.Jordan Lay, 18.Jeff Thwaites, 19.Troy Callander, 20.Henry Stowers, 21.Luke Campbell, 22.Elijah Nicholas, 23.Isaac Te Aute
|Manawatu v Wellington||Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North||20-Aug||4:35 PM|
15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Ambrose Curtis, 13 Lewis Marshall, 12 Curtis Reid, 11 Willy Ambaka, 10 Otere Black, 9 Kayne Hammington; 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis captain, 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Tom Parsons, 3 Sean Paranihi, 2 Hunter Prescott, 1 Fraser Armstrong
Reserves: 16 Tim Cadwallader, 17 Tuki Raimona, 18 Sione Asi, 19 Liam Hallam-Eames, 20 Harrison Brewer, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Jade Te Rure, 23 Newton Tudreu
Trent Renata, Julian Savea, Wes Goosen, Regan Verney, Ben Lam, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Sheridan Rangihuna, Brad Shields (c), Du'Plessis Kirifi, Galu Taufale, James Blackwell, Sam Lousi, Alex Fidow, Asafo Aumua, Tolu Fahamokioa
Reserves: Sitiveni Paongo, Vince Sakaria, Joe Apikotoa, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Dan Kirkpatrick, Malo Tuitama
As New Zealand and Australia get set to do battle on the sporting field once again, this time in the Bledisloe Cup, the one-time pinnacle of International Rugby, i think it is only fair that we, as kiwi fans, take a moment to spare a thought for our Australasian cousins. The realists among them are starting to come to terms with the reality that their star has faded, and they are no longer the sporting superpower they once were.
Around the turn of the century, Australia could lay claim to being the best all-round sporting nation on the planet. Not a huge population, they still managed to excel in a number of discipines:
Tennis: Their two best players in Hewitt and Rafter spent time at #1, and won multiple Grand Slams. The Woodies, particularly Woodbridge, could lay claim to being the best doubles players ever. It was a golden time
Cricket: Undisputed kings of all forms, unbeatable at home, nigh unbeatable away, with a host of all-time greats; and in the discussion as the greatest cricket side of all time
The Olympics: Sydney was a triumph of an event, with the home nation taking home 58 medals, including 16 gold. THis flowed in to 2004, where they took their tallies even higher, across a huge number of sports
Motor Cycling: Mick Doohan was coming off 5 straight MotoGP championships, while Troys Corser and Bayliss were winning Superbike titles repeatedly
The Socceroos were assembling their greatest ever side that would eventually get out of the Group Stage of the World Cup, including such luminaries as Cahill, Kewell, Schwarzer, Viduka, Aloisi, Bresciano
And of course rugby. 3 super sides were always at the pointy end. The Reds topped the table in '99, The Brumbies were tussling with the Crusaders for the claim to be the best team in the comp. And this flowed to the Wallabies. '99 World Cup. 01 Lions. Multiple wins over the All Blacks, legit claim to be the best team in the world.
And this isn't an exhaustive list, their league team was more dominant, it seemed no matter what they played, they won. A true golden age.
Compare and contrast with today
In tennis, their two best players are a couple of douchebags universally reviled by their own fans, who can't even be fucked playing at Wimbledon
The cricket side has slipped to 4th in the world records, and closer to little old NZ than the top of the table. Series losses home and away are now the norm, rather than a cause for shock. Players were on strike a week ago because they couldn't afford to buy a 2nd Italian sports car
In the Olympics, Australia's plummet down the medal table has been stark. Medal totals have halved, and again, they are closer to little old NZ than the top of the table.
Do they still ride Motor Bikes? Daniel Riccardo seems like a bit of a dude in F1, but hardly in a position to actually win anything.
The Socceroos are in a fight to qualify for the next World Cup, despite playing a bunch of impoverished nations.
And of course the rugby. Super teams winless against NZ opposition. One team fighting their death in Court. The Wallabies are unable to bank a win at home against Scotland any more. Grass roots on it's knees. A bad Bledisloe series, and the public could switch off, for good this time.
So, dear All Black fans, while you are having your pints this weekend, celebrating the return of test match rugby, and the opening of the once-revered South Hemisphere competition, take a second and commiserate with our trans-Tasman cousins. They are going through a tough time of it, it's never easy getting used to a new reality.
People (especially ozzies) often say that Super Rugby is difficult to follow because they know little about the opposing teams, so in the spirit of adding something different to the conversation I thought I would a bit of write up Crusaders' opponents for this Saturday's Super Rugby final, the Lions.
Where are they from?
On paper the Lions represent three unions in the central north east of the country, but they are really Johannesburg based team.
So what kind of place is Jozi? Imagine London, Detroit and Kinshasa all mashed up together.
The city started as a mining town back in the late 19th century and quickly grew to be the largest city in South Africa and the its economic center. The 130-odd years since has done little change the feel of the city and everything feels like it could be replaced/abandoned tomorrow and no-one would bat an eye. Everything feels temporary.
The clearest example of this is the old CBD (where Ellis Park is situated) which used to be the most important real-estate in the country, but in the period between the late 1970's to the early 2000's it was abandoned by business and the middle-class to become crime-ridden high-rise slum. It is sad to see, but in a typical Joburg fashion the businesses simply folded up their tents and set up shop 10km further north without a hint of nostalgia for what they were leaving behind.
In general joburg can be broken up into three parts - London in the North around the stock exchange and assorted high finance types; Detroit in the east and west around the few remaining mines and factories; and Kinshasa in the south around the deserted city center and Soweto even further out.
But in all these places you will find people who are looking to make their fortunes. Whether it be fresh-faced finance graduates, or dirt poor immigrants from from other parts of Africa, they are all looking to make a buck. Joburg is a little slice of the good 'ol US of A; big, brash and dangerous.
Yeah, so? What about the rugby team?
The Lions are just the Golden Lions (previously Transvaal) in a different frock.
Despite its population and economic advantages Transvaal has historically been the third most successful union behind Western Province (Cape Town) and their northern neighbour, Northern Transvaal.
This is kinda weird though, why have they not dominated SA rugby in the same way that Auckland dominated rugby in New Zealand? I think it has something to do with the schizophrenic nature of the place. Kinshasa was never allowed at the table and London had better things to do. That left Detroit to represent the entire region. It is this aspect that I would argue still shapes the personality of the union to this day.
Nothing, and no-one, personifies the blue collar culture of the union better than the union's president during their heyday of the early nineties, Louis Luyt. Luyt was self-made man who worshiped his creator. Growing up poor in the Freestate he made his millions from fertilizer and beer before becoming president of the Transvaal Rugby Union. During his tenure the Lions built a formidable team of former Northern Transvaal players who all conveniently decided to play their rugby south of the Jukskei river (this was when shamateurism was rife). At the union also invested heavily in Ellis Park, exactly at the time when everyone else was moving away from central Joburg. This decision to double down on their downtown location was probably the start of their long decline.
Professionalism wasn't kind to the union. In a typically egotistical moment, Luyt, by then the President of SARU, arranged a marriage between the Gauteng Lions and Freestate in what should have been the strongest South African frnachise on paper, the Cats. On grass however the Cats sucked, never quite living up to their team sheet.
Well not quite never. The Cats had a uncharacteristically successful couple of seasons right at the turn of the century under a brash and abrasive Laurie Mains. They made the Super Rugby semi's in 2001 and 2002 when this still meant something. There really seems to be something about cunts and success with this team.
Between this little blip and 2012 the Lions continued to slide into oblivion. It is quite astounding how rubbish they were. Between 2003 and 2012 they only finished above second-to-last once, in 2009 when they finished 12th out of 14 teams. By 2013 they had been kicked out, and looking back it is pretty hard to justify keeping them in the competition with those sort of results.
But wasn't just the on-field performance that were poor. The union had become rotten to the core. Club rugby was dying, they were producing nearly no Springboks, those they did produce moved off to other provinces and their school league was probably the weakest in the country.
By the end of 2013, the union was all but broke and dead. The year out of Super Rugby had bankrupted the union and there appeared to be no way back.
It was around this time, that the union found some benevolent board member who were able to finance the union over until they they sorted themselves out. It is amazing to think how close rugby was to dying in South Africa's largest and richest city.
It seems like Joburg just thrives on regenerating itself just when you think it is dead.
Johan Ackerman, who took over as head coach in 2014 will deservedly receive great praise for what his team has achieved, but the rebuild actually started a little bit before that.
Between 2011 and 2013, John Mitchell was coaching the team. Unlike the other cunts mentioned so far, he didn't enjoy a lot of on-field success, but his contribution was invaluable in re-starting the union. Mitchell and his assistant coach, Carlos Spencer, changed the way that the team trained with much greater focus on improving the individual skills of the players. Absolutely vital in this regard was extracting the Lions from the general dick-waving contest that is junior rugby in South Africa.
The Currie Cup here has two junior competitions at under 19 and under 21 level that run concurrently with the senior competition. The big unions also played Vodacom Cup at the same time as Super rugby. All in all, the big unions maintain between four and five full time pro teams at any one time. The competition for young talent is silly, with WP, Bulls and Sharks all signing about thirty to forty kids straight out of high school. This obsession with big squads is terrible for the balance sheet and also for the quality of coaching that players receive once they are in the system. Under Mitchell the Lions started contracting fewer kids and started focusing on improving the few that they do sign. Mitchell's revolution has meant that the Lions have been able maximise the talent of their squad. We can only hope that the Lions continue down this track despite their new found onfield and financial success.
At time of writing the Lions are still one of the
four three original Super franchises who have never won a title. That may or may not change this Saturday, but regardless of result on Saturday, this is good time to be a Lions supporter.
They have an honest, humble, likable team under their very impressive (and unfortunately injured) captain Warren Whitely. The team is often incorrectly described as a bunch of journeymen, but that is not really accurate. They are bunch of talented players that have been allowed to flourish in an environment which should act as blue print for the other South African team in how it should be done.
Things are looking up financially, but their position will always remain precarious due to their stadium. Ellis Park is great when the crowds stream in from the suburbs, but as soon as soon as they lose momentum those same supporters will stay at home rather than running the gauntlet that in central Joburg.
It is amazing how things just seem to fix itself when things start going well. All of a sudden the Lions are again producing Springboks and their Craven Week side was crowned champions at the annual senior schools competition.
As fellow traveler I want to congratulate the Lions on what they have achieved and wish them the best of luck for Saturday.