The Lions are fired up for their European challenge after it was confirmed on Thursday that they, along with the Cheetahs, will be involved in European Professional Club Rugby’s (EPRC) Challenge Cup next season.
It is a big boost to the union, after they finished in 11th place on the United Rugby Championship (URC) log and were unable to qualify for the flagship Champions Cup competition which the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks will all be competing in.
However they now have confirmation that they will compete in the second division tournament, which is just as big as the flagship as shown by the amount of international players who competed in the past weekend’s final with Lyon beating Toulon to the title.
“I think it is massive for South African rugby. At the Lions we are also excited because there are all of these English and French clubs that we are going to play against, which makes it more attractive for the supporters, players and the commercial side of things,” said Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli.
“After Super Rugby we wanted to stay in an international interprovincial competition and this is so much bigger. You saw the finals of the Champions and Challenge Cup, it was just so much bigger.
“There are so many eyeballs on it, so for a player it makes sense to join a team that participates in these competitions and then commercially sponsors are getting much more bang for their buck.”
The Lions now face a tough task of strengthening their squad depth, with the possibility of having to compete on three fronts at the same time next season, with the URC, Challenge Cup and Currie Cup.
“I think it’s a nice challenge to have. I don’t want to speak ahead on how the Currie Cup will be structured but it will obviously be difficult to play in three competitions at the same time, so we will have to see where we can fit in it all,” said Straeuli.
“Also with the World Cup coming up next year these competitions might have to end even earlier, so we will have to see how it pans out.
“Hopefully from the following season we will be able to get back into a rhythm again. Because with Covid we haven’t been able to get a working system, so hopefully now we can start moving into a two or three year cycle.”
The Cheetahs were also absolutely thrilled to return to European rugby, finally finding themselves a home after being left out in the cold over the past few years.
“It’s great news for us. It’s been a long time coming and we are looking forward to playing in that competition,” said Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie.
“Last year we would have played as well, but it was cancelled in September, so it was a big disappointment. But we are really looking forward to playing in the competition against the top teams in Europe.”