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Lions aim to find more in 2018

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    17 Feb 2018     Getty Images

Twice runners-up under now departed coach Johan Ackermann, the Lions couldn't stay the same, he said.

"We have achieved nothing yet," he told sport24.co.za.

"We can't be the same team as last year if we want to keep improving in this competition, because the competition keeps evolving and other teams keep improving. We have to be in search of that extra one percent," he said.

New coach Swys de Bruin was part of Ackermann's coaching team for the side who lost to the Hurricanes away in the 2016 final and then lost at home to the Crusaders in last year's final and has said he is reluctant to tinker too much with the team culture and philosophy of the side.

Whiteley said, "We have a new coaching staff and we have lost a couple of players, but our systems are much the same with tweaks here and there.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we know we can't stay the same."

While there was a target on their backs, especially from opposing South African sides, Whiteley said that wasn't an issue for the Lions.

"We are just focused on what we want to do. You've got to be careful when you start getting emotional about things, and we certainly aren't. For us, it's just business," he said.

Whiteley is leading the side for the first time since suffering a groin injury in last year's June series against France. He played two warm-up games in Japan and has been working with the Lions in recent weeks. His return is also of consequence for the Springboks later in the season as he is seen as their captain also.

"It's a new season with new challenges and a new format. We feel as a group that we haven't achieved anything yet. It starts again and we know that Super Rugby is a long competition and a grind," he said.

Sharks captain Ruan Botha told sharksrugby.co.za, "We had two very good warm-up games, we still haven't painted the perfect picture yet, but training this week has gone really well.

"We've been training to play the complete game and the guys are keen to get onto the field and get our campaign started," he said.

In the other game of the opening round the Stormers will start at home against the Jaguares with a less experienced locking pair of JD Schickerling and Chris van Zyl with Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit both injured.

They also have an experienced combination out the back with fullback Dillyn Leyds and wings Seabelo Senatla and Raymond Rhule.

Coach Robbie Fleck said: "From a combination point of view they're a little bit green in terms of knowing each other, but each one has his different strengths and they're certainly going to add value to the way we want to play, so we're pretty excited to see how these three go."

Jaguares coach Mario Ledesma said the key for his side would be adapting quickly to Super Rugby game rhythm.

"Starting in South Africa is not the easiest, but it is a challenge," he told jaguares.com.ar.

"They [the Stormers] are very dangerous and have high quality players."

But Ledesma, in his first season coaching the side, said he had pulled together a squad of players who were immediately able to work very hard.

"The feedback from the boys is that they had never experienced such an intense preseason. Our experienced players have shared a lot with the new players which is one of the values of rugby," he said.