There’s a very good reason why the Lions are South Africa’s best hope in 2017’s Super Rugby campaign.
After finishing runners-up last year, Johan Ackermann and co have managed to keep the core of the 2016 group intact.
That’s thoroughly a rarity nowadays as most South African sides get gutted by wealthy overseas clubs.
The Lions also have a clear vision of how they want to play and the majority of the squad is well-versed in that regard.
So, how do the men from Doornfontein stack up?
Fullbacks: Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza
Don’t be fooled by only those two names.
Andries Coetzee had established himself as a dependable, skillful last bastion and is one of the best tactical kickers in the side.
If the need arises, Ruan Combrinck and Jaco van der Walt can also deputise in the No 15 jersey but its surely time to grant more responsibility to the willing Sylvian Mahuza.
Verdict: Solid if unspectacular
Wings: Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan, Madosh Tambwe, Anthony Volmink
Many teams in this competition will gladly take Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan as their first-choice pair of wings.
The duo is potent, varied and hard-working – the ideal combination for the modern wing.
But with Bok Combrinck out with injury for the start of the campaign, 20-year-old Madosh Tambwe might have the chance to unexpectedly make his mark.
He was in superb try-scoring form during the pre-season and the coaching staff might just blood him.
Verdict: Classy (and exciting)
Centres: Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Jacques Nel, Harold Vorster, Howard Mnisi
One of the highlights in 2016 was how well Lionel Mapoe and Rohan Janse van Rensburg combined to light up the Lions’ backline play.
There’s no reason for them not to do that again but Janse van Rensburg must be wary of falling prey to “second-season syndrome”.
Otherwise, three teammates are just waiting to take their chance … including 2015 star Harold Vorster.
Verdict: Oozing power and possibilities
Flyhalves: Elton Jantjies, Jaco van der Walt, Shaun Reynolds
This is the Lions’ only weak area.
Elton Jantjies needs to recover quickly after a bad year in the Springbok jersey.
His back-up is a guy who the coaching staff can’t decide if he’s a 10 or 15 and the other an inexperienced 21-year-old with a big boot.
Did they need one more signing?
Verdict: Don’t underestimate the importance of Jantjies
Scrumhalves: Faf de Klerk, Ross Cronje, Dillon Smit
The joy about this position is how each player has his own strengths and quirks.
Faf de Klerk is the little bulldog with initiative, whilst the experienced Ross Cronje is rounded and reliable.
Ironically, Dillon Smit combines potentially the best of both teammates – but will he play?
Verdict: Hard to see a chink in the armour
Eighthmen: Warren Whiteley, Hacjivah Dayimani, Fabian Booysen
Captain Warren Whiteley will probably be at the back of the scrum for the majority of the series but if the workload becomes too heavy, there’s backup.
And that backup isn’t confined to the rookie Hacjivah Dayimani and Fabian Booysen…
Flankers: Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel, Cyle Brink, Robert Kruger, Kwagga Smith
Need there be said more about this powerful, talented and versatile group?
Kwagga Smith’s presence affords the Lions much-needed speed at the breakdown.
Verdict: You can drool now…
Locks: Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Lourens Erasmus
The signing of former Baby Bok skipper Marvin Orie illustrates how well the Lions recuit.
They’ve been crying out for a nimble organiser of the lineout in the Victor Matfield-mould and Orie has the potential to do that.
Franco Mostert and Andries Ferreira are wonderfully rugged.
Verdict: Strengthened considerably
Props: Ruan Dreyer, Corne Fourie, Dylan Smith, Johannes Jonker, Sti Sithole, Jacques van Rooyen, Hencus van Wyk, Justin Ackerman
There are more than enough options but the struggles in last year’s Currie Cup was a concern.
Talisman Julian Redelinghuys isn’t available for 2017 and Dylan Smith only returns a bit later.
Will the rest stand up?
Verdict: The scrum machine might take a while to crank into gear
Hookers: Malcolm Marx, Robbie Coetzee, Akker van der Merwe
Malcolm Marx is considered the next Bismarck du Plessis.
That alone makes him the first-choice candidate.
But boy, on paper, that is a mouthwatering group of players.
Verdict: Who the hell do you pick?