Lions Challenge is launched
The Lions Challenge was today officially launched, 9 days before the season opening game against Russia at Ellis Park is due to kick-off. With Tony de Munnik (member of the Executive Council), the always entertaining and insightful Kevin de Klerk (President), head coach Johan Ackerman and acting CEO Ruben Moggee all on the agenda, it was always going to be an interesting afternoon.
Little doubt was left as to how the Lions feel over the Super Rugby debacle, nor their feelings towards the role players involved. de Munnik stated that the Lions have “been the victim of all that is wrong in SA Sport” but that the Lions will “shrug off the negativity of all that is wrong in Cape Town” – a clear reference to SARU and they way they handled the process of Super Rugby exclusion.
With the Lions being forced out of Super Rugby to facilitate the inclusion of the Kings, the Lions Challenge is seen as a way not only to compete against top class opposition, but to prepare for the Super Rugby promotion relegation matches.
“We see this as a tournament of substance – a competition that can survive well beyond this year”, said CEO Moggee. He also stated that the tournament can be implemented by other teams in the future; most likely by the side that loses the promotion/relegation play-off series.
The Lions have created a packed fixture list, with matches against the likes of Samoa, Russia, the French Barbarians, Agen, Montpellier and all the South African Super Rugby franchises to name a few.
“This is the start of something new, something special” said captain JC Janse van Rensburg, who went on to state that “you have to go through the bad stuff, it wasn’t nice” in reference to the Johannesburg franchise being excluded from Super Rugby.
“We had a three week holiday, and when we reported back for training, every player achieved a personal best in training – they are ready. The heart of a true Lion will never change” said the Springbok tourist.
Kevin de Klerk never fails to mince his words, and this occasion was no different. His defiant attitude towards those who wronged the Lions has continued into 2013, with the President vowing that the Lions are as strong as ever.
“We have bounced back from the Super Rugby debacle. All the role players – SARU, the Kings and the unions who turned their backs on us have not heard the last of the Lions.
“Many people predicted that we would not survive this – we have come back stronger than ever” said the fiery ex player.
Credit must be given to the Lions for their quick response to their Super Rugby exclusion. They did not roll over, they did not give in to the pressures placed on them by outsiders, but rather stood up and fought back.
And while the Lions Challenge might not be Super Rugby, it is a hell of a lot better than the Vodacom Cup alternative. Players will be facing quality opposition on a regular basis, and the host of young talent which the union now possesses will be exposed to quality opposition on a weekly basis, affording them the opportunity to grow and learn in a professional environment.
Yes, it is not Super Rugby, but it certainly will be exciting.
As a new era is ushered in at the Lions, so a new dawn has risen. The Lions are here to stay, and they are here to fight. And I for one cannot wait to see what the season ahead has to offer, both on the field and off.
No doubt the shenanigans off the field will continue, we have not heard the last of the Super Rugby debacle just yet – of that there is no doubt. And with the Lions fighting to gain back their spot for the 2014 season, SARU, the Kings and the Lions are set to renew their bitter feud in the months ahead.
“We will get back into Super Rugby, and we will win Super Rugby in the future”, said head coach Johan Ackerman – fighting words from a man who was a mere 38 seconds away from taking his side to a Currie Cup final.
Whether they can conquer the immense task ahead of them remains to be seen, but, as the CEO Moggee so elegantly puts it – “the Lions have laid down the challenge to the world”.