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The Lions next play the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday 23 January 2021, kickoff at 14:00.

Who Are They? Introducing the Lions…

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    Posted: 28-Dec-2020 at 12:14pm

Expect flair and tenacity in equal regard when South African Super Rugby franchises Sharks, Stormers, Bulls and Lions join the Guinness PRO14 in 2021.

If you thought the Championship couldn’t get any bigger or better already then get ready to be kept on the edge of your seat when South Africa’s finest engage with the star-studded names of the Guinness PRO14.

Ahead of their addition, get to know each team with our handy guides with today’s focus on the emerging Lions.

When they were founded?

Formed all the way back in 1889 the Lions, based in Gauteng, Johannesburg, were originally known as Transvaal Rugby Union – the fourth oldest rugby union side in South Africa.

They played their first match against Griquas in Kimberley on 31 August that year but didn’t acquire their Ellis Park Stadium home until 1928, having previously played at Wanderers.

The Lions are regarded as one of the most successful teams in South African rugby history, having won the Currie Cup 11 times through the club’s various guises, Super 10 once, the Vodacom Cup five times and the Lion Cup five times also.

But it hasn’t always been this way, the union for a long time regarded as the perennial underachievers thanks to a 21-year stretch from 1972 (having won the competition for a sixth time that year) to 1993 with no Currie Cup successes.

They played their last match as Transvaal against a touring Italian XV in November 1992 before changing their union name to the Lions in 1993, the year they won their first and only Super 10 title with victory over Auckland.

That success made them the first South African team to win a trans-national title. In 1998 their union name changed once again to the Golden Lions with their Super Rugby side known as the Cats from 1998 to 2006 before becoming the Lions themselves.

The club has played host to a whole host of legendary names including the likes of 1995 World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar, current South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus and Andre Pretorius.

How many trophies have they won?

The Golden Lions can count 22 major trophies to their name after much dominance of the Currie Cup through the early 1950s, early 1970s and 1990s.

However, the Lions have not enjoyed anywhere near as much Super Rugby success as their counterparts have outside the provincial competition.

Without a title to their name, their best-ever finishes came in three consecutive years as losing finalists in 2016, 2017 and 2018 to Hurricanes and Crusaders.

Indeed, for the first four seasons of Super Rugby’s existence, the Lions (or Transvaal/Gauteng Lions/Golden Cats/Cats as they were known in the first four seasons) only finished in the top half once and came 10th or lower in the Super 12 as it was known then on three occasions.

Under the guidance of coach Laurie Mains, the side enjoyed their best-ever competitions at the turn of the millennium, reaching back-to-back semi-finals. But they would go on to endure an even greater barren run from 2002 to 2012, finishing in the bottom three positions of the ever-expanding format on every occasion.

In fact, they were relegated from the competition at the end of that run, the Lions won the Super Rugby promotion two-legged match-up with the Southern Kings in 2013 to return the following year.

Since then, they have been resurgent, making wholesale changes to begin with including hiring former player Johan Ackermann as coach as well as adopting a more fluid style of play.

Ackermann’s time in charge brought steady improvements at first before reaching consecutive finals in 2016 and 2017.

On both occasions though, they proved no match for their Kiwi opponents as they lost 20-3 to Hurricanes and 25-17 to Crusaders respectively.

Under Swys de Bruin a year later they reached their third straight final as Malcolm Marx electrified the competition with 12 tries, but again they could not jump the final hurdle.

Where did they finish in the table last year?

After a ninth-placed finish in 2019, Ivan van Rooyen’s side finished fifth out of seven sides in the Super Rugby Unlocked competition which was brought in as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent cancellation of the regular Super Rugby season.

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