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Team Preview: The Lions

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allblacks.com     16 Feb 2017     Getty Images

Home: Ellis Park
Last Season: 2nd

Squad:
Still to be confirmed but prospects include: Gerrie Labuschagne, Madosh Tambwe, Jacques Nel, Harold Vorster, Selom Gavor, Shaun Reynolds, Ross Cronje, Fabian Booysen, Robert Kruger, Cyle Brink, Lourens Erasmus, Andries Ferreira, Johannes Jonker, Robbie Coetzee, Corne Fourie, Akker van der Merwe, Sti Sithole, Hencus van Wyk, JP du Preez, Bobby de Wee, Hacjiva Dayimani, Victor Sekekete, Dillon Smit, Eddie Fouche, Gerdus van der Walt, Jarryd Sage, Dean Gordon, Jean Luc Cilliers, Ruan Ackermann, Warren Whiteley, Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Renburg, Elton Jantjies, Harold Vorster, Lionel Mapoe.

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Game breaker:
Lionel Mapoe made up for some frustrating times due to injury before demonstrating his abilities with some fine performances for the Lions in 2016. The decision of coach Johan Ackermann to use the ball among the backs more often helped Mapoe who was encouraged to use his attacking skills to good effect and he was a sharp edge in the Lions attack. He has now played 11 Tests for the Springboks and shapes as a key contributor if the Lions are to go one better this year.

Key signing:
Elton Jantjies was the vital performer to the Lions improved backline displays last year and while inconsistent at times, he showed the skills to make him an invaluable player in this year's plans. Another year of Super Rugby, and international exposure, will have only strengthened his game and his experience will be a test for all opponents. His running game can be elusive and it will be interesting to see how much his defensive game has developed. The pressure will be on South Africa's five-eighths with Jantjies competing with Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie for places in the national side and that can only be good for the country.

Returning veteran
Warren Whiteley had a big year last year and made the most of the absence of Springboks No.8 Duane Vermeulen to increase his exposure to international play. It was a big year in his leadership of the Lions to a place in the Investec Super Rugby final, but the transition to Test play was not so impressive as the Springboks struggled. However, he played for Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan during the summer and with plenty of time to ponder the events of last year he is certain to be a key man in the Lions' approach this year.

The Scoop

Coach Johan Ackermann has applied the pressure from the outset of the season saying the members of his side who finished runners-up in last year's Super Rugby season would have to win their places again this year. "There are no rankings in this team and everyone must be able to step up and play if they're called upon as was the case at times last year," he said. Another factor that will boost the Lions' prospects this year is the absence of games against New Zealand sides.