No more roar: A long list of players have said goodbye to the Lions
Burger Odendaal, a senior of the side, is the latest high-profile player to opt for a new team.
Lions captain Burger Odendaal will turn out for Wasps next season. Picture: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images
Joburg’s mighty Lions have lost their roar.
And it doesn’t look like they’re going to regain it any time soon.
They’ve found the going tough in the Currie Cup (4th in the standings in 2020 and 7th in 2021) and in the United Rugby Championship (currently 14th out of 16 teams) in the last two years and will need some kind of miracle to turn things around.
Their biggest problem though is they’re taking on some of the best teams in Europe with a mix-and-match side, with few real stars, while their fellow South African sides are full of internationals.
Losing players at regular intervals has been a major problem for the Lions over the years, and while they’re not the only South African franchise to suffer big losses to the cash-rich clubs of Europe and Japan, they seem to be harder hit than other outfits.
The latest big-name player to announce his departure is centre Burger Odendaal, a former junior star and Bulls captain, who’ll join Wasps in England later this year.
Odendaal is another experienced campaigner to depart Joburg, just like so many others before him, since the Lions featured so prominently in Super Rugby in 2016, 2017 and 2018 when they played in three straight finals.
The list of players to say goodbye to Ellis Park in the last five years is a who’s who of recent Lions rugby:
Props: Jacques van Rooyen, Dylan Smith
Hookers: Akker van der Merwe, Robbie Coetzee, Malcolm Marx
Locks: Lourens Erasmus, Marvin Orie, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Stephan Lewies
Loose forwards: Cyle Brink, Ruan Ackermann, Kwagga Smith, Marnus Schoeman, James Venter
Scrumhalves: Faf de Klerk, Nic Groom, Dillon Smit
Flyhalves: Elton Jantjies, Jaco van der Walt, Marnitz Boshoff, Shaun Reynolds
Centres: Rohan Janse v Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Howard Mnisi
Wings: Courtnall Skosan, Ruan Combrinck, Madosh Tambwe
Fullbacks: Andries Coetzee, Tyrone Green
There are several other players not listed here who’ve also sought greener pastures.
Individuals including Warren Whiteley (injury), Julian Redelinghuys (injury), Warwick Tecklenburg (retirement) and Ross Cronje (retirement) were lost to the team, while several experienced coaches, including Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin, JP Ferreira and Joey Mongalo also moved elsewhere.
In recent times, departed men such as Jaco Kriel and Ruan Dreyer returned to Joburg, while veteran prop Jannie du Plessis also teamed up with the Joburg side.
And while there are several up-and-coming young players full of promise in the Lions set-up, the squad lacks quality depth and hardened campaigners who’ve played Test rugby. There is not one current Bok in the squad.
The big question now is, who’ll be next to exit Ellis Park? Rising centre Wandisile Simelane has hinted at a move for a while, and the Tshituka brothers, Vincent and Emmanual, will be very sought-after, as will the likes of Carlu Sadie, Francke Horn, and Jordan Hendrikse.
The Lions, with just two wins from seven matches in the URC, face Leinster in Dublin on Friday.