16 May Opposition Profile: Lions
Taking a closer look at our opponents for this week’s match at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg, the Lions
WHO ARE THEY?
Founded in 1996, the Lions are the representative team that represents Johannesburg and the Northern Cape and have been known by several names during their existence. They have played Super Rugby as Transvaal (1996), the Gauteng Lions (1997), Golden Cats (1998), the Cats (1999-2005) and latterly as the Lions (from 2006 to date). First coached by Kitch Christie and captained by Francois Pienaar, they play their matches at the 62,567 capacity Emirates Airline Park, more commonly referred to as Ellis Park.
WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?
The Lions call the South African city of Johannesburg their home, the largest city in South Africa, which has a population over 4.5 million people. The region surrounding Johannesburg was originally inhabited by San people, whilst the origin of the city’s name has been lost in the annals of time. The city is located on the Highveld, the Eastern plateau are of the country and sits some 1,753 metres above sea level, the altitude playing a part in many famous home successes at their Ellis Park Stadium.
WHO ELSE IS FROM THERE?
Canadian basketball player Steve Nash, who played for the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers was born in the sprawling metropolis that is Johannesburg. The Director of District 9, Neill Blomkamp, also calls the South African city his birthplace. Home and Away actress Tammin Sursok, Golf Legend Gary Player and Craig Johnston, an Australian who played football for Liverpool and England, were all bon in Johannesburg.
RAISING THE BAR OR UNDERACHIEVING?
A bit of both really. They suffered the ultimate humiliation when they were relegated from Super Rugby in 2012, their place taken by the Southern kings as the South Africa Rugby Union decided to change things up. It was hardly surprising as for the eleven previous seasons they had flirted with the wooden spoon, never finishing higher than eleventh. That all changed after their reintroduction with the team suddenly merging from the shadows and reaching successive Finals in 2016 and 2017, losing to the Hurricanes in Wellington and at home to the Crusaders last year.
WHO’S THEIR GREATEST?
A veritable who’s who of South African rugby have played for the club over the years with iconic Rugby World Cup winning skipper Francois Pienaar amongst those well known. Another World Cup winning star to play for the franchise is number eight or flanker Bobby Skinstad who was part of the 2007 side that defeated England in Paris in the Final. More recently, the current skipper of the Springboks, Warren Whiteley, plays for the Lions and led his team to the Final last season only to suffer disappointment at the hands of the Crusaders.