Injuries aside, Lions coach John Mitchell is confident his team will be as competitive as any of the other outfits in this year's Super Rugby series.
Mitchell confirmed that a number of his senior players - Wikus van Heerden, Michael Rhodes, CJ van der Linde and Franco van der Merwe - are doubtful for the opening match of the season, against the Cheetahs on February 25.
Others like Michael Killian and Martin Bezuidenhout will be looking to make their comeback from injury in a trial match against the Pumas, in Nelspruit, on Saturday.
Then there is the injury of talented young lock Ruan Botha, who rolled his ankle in the 88-0 win over the Eagles/Bulldogs selection in George on Tuesday. He will definitely miss the start of the season, but Mitchell said it is only expected to be a three-week lay-off.
"Ruan [Botha] played exceptionally well and he has a bright future," Mitchell said of the second row forward who is one of the tallest in the business at 204 centimetres.
"We have quite a few out," the coach told this website, adding: "We have got better depth [than 2011]."
Mitchell will also use Saturday's trial against the Pumas to give a number of his Super Rugby players some additional game time.
Those who will feature against the Pumas - for what is mostly a Lions Vodacom Cup side - include Jacobie Adriaanse, Stephan Greeff, Warren Whiteley, Michael Killian (although he still has to pass a late fitness test) and Martin Bezuidenhout.
The Lions mentor also said his team has not revealed much during their pre-season matches - a 6-28 loss to the Stormers at a windswept Newlands last month and this week's rout (88-0) against the Eagles/Bulldogs combination.
"We have been working within [the Lions squad] for the last couple of weeks, so we're actually quite match fit," Mitchell told this website.
"But it is always good for the guys to go up against somebody else.
"We have been focussed on getting through our content, so we got through a fair bot of stuff. We left three or four tries on the park, got enough defence in the performance - but we also need to improve our teamwork."
Asked if there any aspects of his team's game he will work on before the season opener against the Cheetahs, the Lions mentor said they haven't really shown anything.
"Pre-season has its purpose, but I don't read too much into the pre-season," he said, adding: "We've got our players into a position to carry a very long season."
Asked if he felt his team will be as competitive in Super Rugby as they were in the winning the Currie Cup last year, Mitchell said: "I feel we were competitive last year in Super Rugby.
"They are all [old] competitions and this is a new beginning ... a new beginning for everyone. We are no different to anyone else.
"We are excited by that reality and obviously we have got some belief, as well as a great team culture.
"It is now a matter of adjusting, adapting and making sure we select the right team each week to get the performance. The players also realise they are accountable according to their performances."
Lions: 15 Marais Schmidt, 14 Anthony Volmink, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Robert du Bruyn, 11 Janus Jonker/Michael Killian, 10 Andries Coetzee, 9 Whestley Moolman, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Stephan de Wit, 5 Stephan Greeff, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements - form: Martin Bezuidenhout, Gideon Muller, Kene Okafor, Fabian Booysen, Nico Kruger, Garth April, Bradley Moolman, Michael Killian/Janus Jonker, JR Esterhuizen, Jaco Kriel.
Date: Saturday, February 18
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00)
Referee: Sindile Mayende
By Jan de Koning
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