Assessing the damage of the Lions’ player cleanout

Assessing the damage of the Lions’ player cleanout

Lionel Mapoe of the Lions charges forward during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and Lions at Christchurch Stadium on April 26, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

A string of departures have been confirmed by the franchise and some of them are massive names…

The Lions on Tueday confirmed the widely held fear of various departures following this year’s Super Rugby campaign.

With SA Rugby’s new contracting model forcing franchises to be more prudent, it’s probably little surprise that several experienced (and high earners) have moved on.

We give our verdict on how big a hole these respective players leave.


Ruan Combrinck of Lions during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Emirates Lions at DHL Newlands Stadium on February 23, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

It’s been a dramatic fall from grace for the talented, versatile back. After elevating himself into the Springbok team in 2016, the 29-year-old’s poor injury record and fluctuating form has seen him regress. 2019 was an ideal opportunity for him to make his presence count as a senior player in a team in transition. Instead, he ended his stay in Johannesburg by underperforming in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.

HOLE:  Theoretically massive, but not when Combrinck’s in this type of head space.


Robbie Coetzee of the Lions during the Currie Cup match between Xerox Golden Lions and Vodacom Blue Bulls at Emirates Airline Park on September 16, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

It’s actually a bit of a wonder that the hooker only departs now. For the latter part of his Lions career he played in the shadow of Malcolm Marx and Akker van der Merwe, yet always look accomplished whenever he was given a chance. On-field discipline and fitness issues hindered his mission of proving his worth.

HOLE: With Marx not available till May 2020 in Super Rugby, this is the type of experience you really should try to cling on to.


Sylvian Mahuza of the Lions during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Jaguares at Emirates Airline Park on March 09, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)

No-one will dispute his service to the Lions, a brilliant squad player, who had to bide his time. However, there’s a feeling that he needs a home where he’s consistently a first-choice player … and playing in one position. Might he have had it at Ellis Park from 2020 onwards?

HOLE: A departure that’s probably good for both parties.


Nic Groom of the Emirates Lions passes the ball during the Super Rugby match between Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions at Jonsson Kings Park Stadium on May 25, 2019 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

His recruitment was eye-catching, but the former Stormers scrumhalf just never seemed to fit in all that well. Groom seemed to perform better when the Lions played a tighter game, but those occasions were rare. It certainly didn’t help that he’s a similar player to Ross Cronje.

HOLE: Not a big one.


This acquisition screamed panic buy following the departure of Jacques van Rooyen. He didn’t make a single Super Rugby appearance.

HOLE: What hole?


Robert Kruger of the Emirates Lions on a bullocking run with close attention from Michael Leitch of the Sunwolves during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Sunwolves at Emirates Airline Park on March 17, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gordon Arons/ Gallo Images)

A similar case to Mahuza, though the quality of the loose forwards that emerged in the Lions’ system means Kruger limitations put him at an disadvantage.

HOLE: There isn’t one.


Harold Vorster of the Emirates Lions on attack during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Highlanders at Emirates Airline Park on May 18, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)

Granted, injuries stunted his progress after breaking onto the scene in 2015, but Vorster remains one of the more powerful midfielders on the local circuit. That physicality is complemented by sharp rugby brain. It’s a pity his form was wonky at the start of this campaign though it improved dramatically once coach Swys de Bruin dropped him initially. His departure seems rather wasteful.

HOLE: Substantial given that the best is probably still to come from him.


Mapoe can rightly be regarded as a Lions legend. The Springbok consistently upheld his high standards and even in 2019’s mediocre campaign proved to be a star. At 30 he’s very much still sharp and his experience in the current climate can’t be bought. While he deserves high profile overseas move, the Lions will miss him.

HOLE: Massive.

  • Stephan Lewies and Franco Naude were on loan.

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