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Emirates LionsEmirates Lions Head Coach Johan Ackermann has made a number of changes to the side who lost to the Highlanders in Dunedin during Round 3 of Super Rugby 2016, for the clash against the Toyota Cheetahs at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

In an enforced change due to the suspension of blindside flank Warwick Tecklenburg, the young prospect Ruan Ackermann gets his 1st run-on opportunity in the loose forwards.

Also returning to the starting lineup is Lionel Mapoe who missed the last game to be at the birth of his 1st child, as well as Andries Coetzee at fullback, together with Dylan Smith and Malcolm Marx in the front row.

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Super Rugby 2016 trophyThe Jaguares bounced back from last week’s disappointment to beat a young Emirates Lions team 49 / 28 in an 11-try feast in their Super Rugby pre-season outing Johannesburg on Friday.

Following their 14 / 29 loss to the DHL Stormers last week, the Argentinean newcomers to Super Rugby showed the class that 20-odd internationals can bring to a team – running the Lions ragged – outscoring them by 7 tries to 4 at the Wits Stadium.

Some sublime inter-passing and grand angled running by the visitors that expose some major flaws in the Lions’ defensive set-up.

The Emirates Lions – consisting mainly of their back-up squad –  played decent only in patches.

Their frontline selections were rested before they start their Super Rugby campaign with a historic match against Japan’s newcomers, the Sunwolves, in Tokyo next week.

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Super RugbyJust how the revised Super Rugby format will go down with the South African rugby public is unclear, but we won’t have to wait long to find out.

The new-look tournament gets underway in less than a month, with the Blues and the Highlanders kicking things off in Auckland on Friday 26 February 2016.

From a South African perspective, the road ahead looks a tough one and if local bookmakers are to be believed there is no standout side from within these borders that looks set to challenge for the title.

Outside of the tournament changes, the majority of the South African franchises have also undergone major alterations with only 2wo sides – the Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions – heading into 2016 with the same coaches that did the business in 2015.

The Southern Kings, obviously, were not a part of the 2015 competition but they also have a new man at the helm.

Here, we look at the 6 men tasked with bringing success to their respective franchises:

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Warren Whiteley

Warren Whiteley

Warren Whiteley will be captaining the Emirates Lions for the 3rd consecutive Super Rugby season when he again takes the reigns for 2016.

The experienced Whiteley welcomed the responsibility of the captaincy bestowed upon him. “It is a big honour to again lead the Lions in the Super Rugby competition. I take the task very seriously while I also enjoy making decisions on and off the field.

“While I think nothing has changed it becomes easier. Also because we’ve got such a great core of leaders around me,” Whitely said.

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Emirates LionsAll the Lions’ Currie Cup heroes except for Kwagga Smith, who is contracted for National Sevens duty, have been retained for Super Rugby while 9 other stalwarts have strengthened the squad.

Flanker Derick Minnie returns after a long injury lay-off and winger Ruan Combrink and centre Harold Vorster have also been added to the Super Rugby group after missing some Currie Cup action due to injury.

Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies, centre Lionel Mapoe and hooker Akker van der Merwe, as well as Warrick Tecklenburg will return from overseas duty.

The new squad members are former Steval Pumas scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, Leopards No 9 Dillon Smit, Leopards lock Robert Kruger and Pumas prop Corné Fourie, who are all full-blooded Lions now.

Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk has signed a contract with the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) which will see him based permanently in Johannesburg. De Klerk, 24, was a shining light for the Emirates Lions during this year’s Super Rugby competition but because he was still contracted to the Steval Pumas, he had to return to Nelspruit for the Currie Cup season. However, the GLRU on Wednesday confirmed that the scrumhalf has signed a deal which means he will also be available for Currie Cup duty.

Steval Pumas fullback JW Bell is the only new face who hasn’t donned the Lions jersey yet.

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Warren Whiteley

Warren Whiteley

No 8 Warren Whiteley has credited coach Johan Ackermann for the revival in Lions rugby.

This season, Ackermann coached the Xerox Golden Lions to an ABSA Currie Cup title while they also had an adequate Super Rugby campaign as the Emirates Lions, winning 9 of their 16 games.

Not only have the Lions showed a revival in form, but they have also done so by employing an enterprising game style.

“This all started when Johan Ackermann took over as head coach and encouraged the players to play for each other and the jersey,” Whiteley told MyPlayers.co.za. “He put the pride back into Lions rugby, which had a major influence on the team. We enjoyed a strong finish to Super Rugby last year, and we did well during this year’s tournament. We’re also doing well in the Currie Cup. This is all reward for the hard work we’ve put in to ensure the Lions excel as a unit… as a family.”

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Xerox Golden LionsThe Xerox Golden Lions side to take on DHL Western Province in the 2015 ABSA Currie Cup Final shows 3 changes to the starting line-up at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday 24 October 2015 at 13:45 SA Time.

Robbie Coetzee starts at hooker with Malcolm Marx moving to the bench, Kwagga Smith will wear the No 7 jersey while Stephan de Witt takes up a seat on the bench and in the last change Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Stokkies Hanekom will swop places with the latter moving to the bench.

3 Finals will take place on Saturday.

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Jaco Kriel

Jaco Kriel

Xerox Golden Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has brought back his rested stars for their semifinal clash against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs on Saturday.

Jaco Kriel will again lead the team, which has a strong leadership group with Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronjé and Howard Mnisi all back on duty.

Prop Jacques van Rooyen and flank Steph de Wit are back in the starting 15 after playing off the bench last weekend against ORC Griquas.

A number of players who started against Griquas will be on the bench this Saturday. They include centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, hooker Robbie Coetzee, flyhalf Jaco van der Walt, wing Sampie Mastriet, lock Fabian Booysen and the impact specialist Kwagga Smith.

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Xerox Golden LionsSpringbok No 8 Warren Whiteley will wear the Xerox Golden Lions No 8 jumper against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday but Jaco Kriel will still lead the team on the field.

Steph de Wit will be the 3rd member of the loose-trio with Kwagga Smith moving to the bench.

The 3rd change to the starting line-up is the inclusion of Jacques van Rooyen in the front row.

Lourens Erasmus retains his place at lock after a sterling performance last weekend.

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Alwyn Hollenbach

Alwyn Hollenbach

Xerox Golden Lions centre Alwyn Hollenbach has been forced to retire from rugby with immediate effect, due to an recurring shoulder injury.

The 30-year-old Hollenbach joined the Lions rugby family in 2009 and has since represented the union 37 times in the Currie Cup, 24 times in Super Rugby and 19 times in the Vodacom Cup.

The centre has been struggling with the same shoulder injury for quite some time and in 2014 it worsened during Super Rugby against the Brumbies. It is the same shoulder that he injured this year in the Currie Cup against the Pumas.

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Jaco Kriel

Jaco Kriel

Jaco Kriel is back to lead the Xerox Golden Lions against the Vodacom Blue Bulls for the ABSA Currie Cup match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday 12 September.

With Kriel back for his 39th Currie Cup match for the Golden Lions, Kwagga Smith drops to the bench, while Martin Muller also returns from injury in the place of MB Lusaseni while Mullers’ lock partner Franco Mostert is also back.

Ross Cronjé and his Springbok halfback partner Marnitz Boshoff also makes a welcome return.

Cronjé replaces Lohan Jacobs. Boshoff runs out in the place of Jaco van der Walt, who moves to the bench.

In other changes Robbie Coetzee returns to the fray at hooker in a rotational move which sees Malcolm Marx take up the No 16 jersey and Ruan Dreyer is at tighthead prop.

Courtnall Skosan comes in for the injured Anthony Volmink at wing in the only other change to the starting line-up.

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Julian Redelinghuys

Julian Redelinghuys

Warren Whiteley

Warren Whiteley

Warren Whiteley (calf) will not be available for selection for the game against the Blue Bulls on Saturday.

Julian Redelinghuys has a chest injury and will miss training on Monday and Tuesday. He will have to pass a late fitness test on Thursday to play at the weekend.

Martin Muller (ankle) may be available for selection if he passes a fitness test scheduled for Thursday.

Stokkies Hanekom (jaw) should be available for selection but no contact Monday and Tuesday.

Anthony Volmink is out with concussion.

Jaco van der Walt (chest) should be available for selection but no contact Monday and Tuesday.

Stokkies Hanekom

Stokkies Hanekom

Xerox Golden Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has announced his team to front the Cell C Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

In the forwards, Ackermann has made 4 changes. Ruan Dreyer and Robbie Coetzee move into the starting line-up at loosehead prop and hooker respectively. At lock, MB Lusaseni also moves up into the starting side and Kwagga Smith will start at flank.

In the backline, Stokkies Hanekom will start in the place of injured centre Harold Vorster. Jaco van der Walt starts at fullback, shifting Ruan Combrinck to right wing.

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Harold Vorster

Harold Vorster

The Xerox Golden Lions medical group have released a report ahead of the team’s match against the Cell C Sharks in Durban this Saturday.

There is just 1 new injury to report, following last weekend’s win over the Steval Pumas.

Centre Harold Vorster has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the match.

Head coach Johan Ackermann sees the injury as a big blow but believes Vorster will be able to make an impact upon his return to play during the 2016 season.

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Xerox Golden LionsXerox Golden Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has named his side to face the Steval Pumas this Friday at Emirates Airline Park.

Ackermann has made just 1 change to the match day side, which beat the EP Kings 51 / 14 last Saturday. The single change sees Sampie Mastriet bracketed with Anthony Volmink at left wing.

The match will get under way at 19:10 SA Time.

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ABSA Currie CupDefending ABSA Currie Cup champions, DHL Western Province, the Vodacom Blue Bulls and the Xerox Golden Lions all scored impressive wins in the opening Round of South Africa’s premier provincial competition over the weekend.

The 1st Round of the famous competition saw a number of outstanding individual performance as the teams got their new campaign underway. 6 Of the 8 teams started with new coaches at the helm, while several of the line-ups included numerous Junior Springboks and also a few Springbok Sevens stalwarts.

Springbok scrumhalf Francois Hougaard gave a masterclass performance for the Vodacom Blue Bulls, who scored 6 tries in total in their comprehensive 57 / 19 win over the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

In the other match played on Saturday afternoon, Junior Springbok flank Kwagga Smith was equally impressive for the Xerox Golden Lions in Port Elizabeth where he scored a hattrick of tries in their 51 / 14 demolition of the Eastern Province Kings.

Champions Western Province kicked off their campaign in perfect fashion on Friday afternoon with a 6-try victory over the ORC Griquas in Kimberley. Springbok Sevens flyer Seabelo Senatla scored 2 tries to demonstrate his deadly finishing abilities.

Meanwhile, history repeated itself in the late match on Friday when the Steval Pumas beat the Cell C Sharks 33 / 24 in the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. The score was almost identical to the 32 / 22 shock win of the Pumas over the Sharks in the opening Round fixture of last year at the same venue.

Pumas live-wire flank Marnus Schoeman scored 2 tries and was denied a 3rd by a desperate Thomas du Toit tackle just as he was about to launch himself over the try line.

The Vodacom Blue Bulls currently sit on Top of the Log, thanks to their bonus point win and better points’ difference and they are followed by the Xerox Golden Lions, DHL Western Province (both also on 5 points) and the Steval Pumas (4 points).

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Franco Mostert

Franco Mostert

Xerox Golden Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has announced his team to face the EP Kings in Port Elizabeth, in the opening Round of the 2015 ABSA Currie Cup competition, on Saturday.

The team includes a mix of both youth and experience as Ackermann looks to once again bring young talent through into the senior ranks this season.

Springbok squad member Franco Moster, who was today released from the Springbok camp, slots in straight to the starting lineup.

The match will get under way at 14:15 SA Time (12:15 GMT).

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Cell C SharksXerox Golden LionsThe Cell C Sharks scored a 33 / 29 victory over the Xerox Golden Lions in an ABSA Currie Cup warm-up match at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on Friday evening.

More than a win, Cell C Sharks Director of Rugby, Gary Gold, asked for his team to show the necessary determination in this warm-up match, and on that score, he will come away from this match well-pleased with their effort, with a victory thrown in for good measure.

Joe Pietersen opened the scoring after both sides showed good attacking intent early in the game, each having a chance to score but not closing out, before he successfully chased his deft grubber through the middle, the ball popping up nicely for him to score under the posts.

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GLRUThe Golden Lions Rugby Union has paid tribute to a former stalwart of the union, Charles Pieterse, who has passed away.

Pieterse played 50 games for the then Transvaal in the 1980s. He also represented the SA Barbarians and played all of his club rugby for Randfontein Rugby Club.

GLRU President Kevin de Klerk expressed his deepest sympathy to Pieterse’s family, on behalf of the union.

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Corné Fourie

Corné Fourie

Faf de Klerk

Faf de Klerk

The Golden Lions Rugby Union have announced the signing for the 2016 season of 2 of their Emirates Lions franchise partners, the Steval Pumas’ players, Faf de Klerk and Corné Fourie.

The Media Release reads as follows:

Lions Rugby (Pty) Ltd is pleased to announce the contracting of Pumas duo Faf de Klerk and Corné Fourie for the 2016 season.

Both De Klerk and Fourie, who have played Vodacom Super Rugby for the Emirates Lions through loan agreements over the past 2 seasons, will return to Johannesburg under permanent contracts in November 2015.

The pair has signed 1-year contracts with Lions Rugby and will thus be involved in both the 2016 Vodacom Super Rugby and ABSA Currie Cup campaigns.

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Armand "Akker" van der Merwe

Armand “Akker” van der Merwe

The Emirates Lions have lost another key player ahead of their Currie Cup campaign.

Hooker Armand “Akker”van der Merwe or “The Angry Warthog” as he is sometimes referred to, has signed a deal with Racing Metro, which will see him play in France for the remainder of the 2015 season.

Lions Rugby (Pty) Ltd revealed that they agreed to release 4 players to clubs abroad for the duration of the Currie Cup tournament.

As was previously reported Elton Jantjies (Shining Arcs), Lionel Mapoe (Spears) and Warwick Tecklenburg (Kamaishi) have all signed agreements in Japan until February 2016.

Along with Van der Merwe, all the players will return ahead of the 2016 Super Rugby tournament and will represent the Lions in next year’s competition. The players have all committed to Lions Rugby until the end of 2016.

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Super RugbyNow that the league phase of the Super Rugby tournament is finished, I have posted a SA team of the tournament article. The team is based on the form players during the tournament, with overseas based players obviously not considered.

The South African teams had a very disappointing tournament by any standards, with injuries, poor form and bad reffing decisions making life hard for the critical rugby public, but in an attempt to find a silver lining here is this author’s team of the tournament (other contenders mentioned where appropriate):

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Swys de Bruin

Swys de Bruin

The Golden Lions Rugby Union moved quickly to dismiss media speculation that backline coach Swys de Bruin was leaving the franchise.

De Bruin has been linked to the position of head coach at the Southern Kings, who will return to Super Rugby when the competition expands to 18 teams next year.

The GLRU said in a statement that De Bruin has a contract in place and will be continuing in his role with the team for the “foreseeable future”.

De Bruin is the current backline coach with the Lions, who had just completed their best Super Rugby season – 9 wins, 6 losses and 1 draw – since Transvaal won the Super 10 competition in 1993 and played in the 1995 Super 10 Final.

GLRU Chief Executive Officer Rudolf Straeuli confirmed that De Bruin will maintain his current role at the union.

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