They’re still considered South Africa’s best bet in 2018’s Super Rugby campaign but the Lions will feel the winds of change are blowing.
It’s their first season in the tournament without departed coach, the influential Johan Ackermann.
The franchise made sure of continuity by employing his right-hand man Swys de Bruin as the new head honcho though he’s had to employ several new(ish) faces as his assistants.
Various stalwarts are also only still contracted for this year and are likely to move on.
So, even if they still show their worth, this could be a year of transition.
Here are some quick thoughts on the squad announced by De Bruin on Tuesday.
The ‘old’ guard is still there but how influential will they be?
One of the Lions’ biggest strengths is their team culture.
It’s one based on loyalty but also excellence.
That would suggest the franchise shouldn’t be worried about the motivation of stars such as Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Ruan Combrinck, Warren Whiteley and Ruan Dreyer.
Yet their contracts are coming to an end and it’s expected that there will be an exodus after this year’s tournament.
The thought of big money overseas can be distracting but the Lions will hope it doesn’t lead to inconsistent performances.
Hooker depth is manufactured
Malcolm Marx’s national contract means that he’s the man De Bruin can build his future squad around since he’s signed till 2020.
His outstanding all-round play will once again be vital.
However, the depth in the hooker position is sketchy.
Akker van der Merwe is nowadays at the Sharks and the Lions strangely had Mikey Willemse for the Currie Cup before immediately pawning him off to the Kings again.
Robbie Coetzee is a solid if somewhat undisciplined deputy but there’s not much else in terms of specialists.
Prop Corne Fourie has been re-treaded to the No 2 jersey, while the on-loan Marnus Schoeman – who’ll primarily play as a nippy, fetcher flanker – has also played hooker before.
It’s a high-risk strategy.
Elton Jantjies is pretty much man-alone (again)
The Springbok flyhalf’s class at Super Rugby is not in doubt after three profitable years.
He’ll be key as always in unlocking and organising the Lions’ expansive way of playing but the lack of a recognised deputy – like 2017 – is a major headache.
De Bruin will hope 22-year-old Shaun Reynolds, known for an excellent boot, can emulate Marnitz Boshoff (who left in 2016) and there’s also the option of further developing the patient Ashlon Davids.
Don’t be surprised if Bok fullback Andries Coetzee is switched in an emergency.
The backline’s versatility will be tested initially
Courtnall Skosan and Ruan Combrinck’s injuries mean the Lions technically have only have two wings available at the moment in Madosh Tambwe and Aphiwe Dyanti.
The duo are still very much rookies at this level though De Bruin is known for backing youngsters.
Nonetheless, the Lions mentor need not risk them if he’s sceptical about their ability to adapt.
Lionel Mapoe is an accomplished wing and there had already been a plan last season to introduce Rohan Janse van Rensburg to the position.
It’s certainly not ideal but it’s also hardly an unmanageable situation.
Fullbacks: Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza
Wings: Courtnall Skosan, Ruan Combrinck, Aphiwe Dyanti, Madosh Tambwe
Centres: Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, Howard Mnisi
Flyhalves: Elton Jantjies, Shaun Reynolds, Ashlon Davids
Scrumhalves: Ross Cronje, Marco Janse van Vuren, Dillon Smit, Christiaan Meyer
Loose forwards: Warren Whiteley, Cyle Brink, Jaco Kriel, Kwagga Smith, Marnus Schoeman, Len Massyn, Hacjivah Dayimani,Willie Engelbrecht
Locks: Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Rhyno Herbst, Robert Kruger, Lourens Erasmus
Hookers: Malcolm Marx, Robbie Coetzee, Corne Fourie
Props: Jacques van Rooyen, Sti Sithole, Jacobie Adriaanse, Ruan Dreyer, Johannes Jonker, Dylan Smith