As I write this, the Lions are currently packing their bags as they prepare for their trip to Christchurch where they will contest their third Super Rugby final in a row against the Crusaders in seven days-time.
Despite their dominance in SA rugby for the past three seasons, it is still clear they still do not receive the same level of support from the South African Rugby Union (Saru) as the rest of the unions which is no better illustrated than the current Schalk Brits and Duane Vermeulen saga.
Vermeulen, Brits set for SA return
With Rassie Erasmus currently setting the platform for the World Cup next year, Vermeulen and Brits are about to be handed Springbok contracts that will see them plying their trade within South Africa for the build up to the World Cup.
The two are said to either be joining the Stormers or the Bulls with no possibility of them joining the Lions which given the player departure crisis the union finds itself in seems to be a glaringly obvious oversight on Saru’s part.
Let me be clear and say that I do not expect Brits to be linked with the Lions given that he will not play much rugby given the form of Malcolm Marx. However, given that the question on everyone’s mind is how to fit Vermeulen and Warren Whitely on the rugby field at the same time, why not solve this within the Lions set up.
Given the different aspects of the game Whitely and Vermeulen bring, I have long been an advocate for Duane to play on the openside flank alongside Whitely at eighthman. They can interchange on the back of the scrum depending on the situation and adds the physicality in Vermeulen whilst keeping the creativity of Whitely.
Saru’s part (or lack thereof) in the player exodus
This season, the Lions have already lost Jaco Kriel and Rohan Janse van Rensburg to the English premiership and will be losing Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen and potentially Franco Mostert as well.
There are also big question marks over Ruan Combrinck, Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe’s long-term futures.
Kriel and van Rensburg are enormous losses not only to the Lions, but also to SA Rugby and their lack of involvement or precarious future in the national set-up is a major factor in their decisions to leave.
Last year, Jan Serfontein denied a dual contract with the Bulls and SA Rugby, an option that didn’t seem to be available to Kriel and van Rensburg.
Rudolph Straeuli earlier this month openly admitted that the futures of Jantjies and Mapoe are in Erasmus’s hands given that they do not have Bok contracts nor Japanese contracts and the Lions cannot afford to match the offers coming from abroad.
Back the union and strengthen the Springboks
If Saru were serious about trying to strengthen the national set up and the unions that contribute to it, then they need to stop treating the Lions like the union that limped along for so many years and instead the one that has lost one match against South African opposition in three years of Super Rugby.
They have already made it very clear that the best thing for the Springboks is to have as many players playing in South Africa and with their Springbok team mates on a day to day basis.
As such, Saru need to have a serious sit down with the Lions and play their part in ensuring that their strongest union at the momentum continues to be the force they are as this can only help the World Cup effort.
The likes of Aphiwe Dyantyi, Dylan Smith, Malcolm Marx and even Cyle Brink all need to be tied down to a future within South African rugby given that they are all 24-years-old and younger and will form the basis of the Lions going forward.
It is also worth mentioning that the bulk of the recent Junior Springboks squad came from the Lions.
A t the same time, Saru would do well to bolster the squad by bringing Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk back to South Africa and into the union. We have already seen what de Klerk did in Johannesburg and Wille le Roux would seamlessly fit into the side and will benefit from working with Swys de Bruin.
Saru have been very quick to assist other unions over the years and it is now long overdue that the Lions get the same treatment. The union has faced so many difficulties and yet have managed to turn everything around.
Considering that Saru and their political affiliation with the EP Kings was largely responsible for it, they have even more of a duty to stand with the union and for once, throw their backing behind the Lions.