When short on experience and a team has lost a few key players, the coach will almost certainly turn to the man he believes can be the most inspirational figure in his squad.
It is thus not surprising that Lions coach Eugene Eloff has re-appointed loose forward Cobus Grobbelaar as the leader of his pride.
Eloff, going into his crucial third Super 14 season as coach of the Johannesburg-based franchise, remains confident he has the right mix to improve on this year’s last place finish – after an equally disappointing 12th place in his first season as a Super Rugby coach in 2007.
“I believe things will come together for us and that 2009 is going to be a GREAT year,” was Eloff’s bold prediction.
Having lost Springbok Jaco Pretorius to the Bulls and emerging star Trompie Nontshinga to Griquas, along with New Zealand Sevens star Willie Ricard’s decision not to relocate to Johannesburg, it is easy to see why some critics are not sharing in Eloff’s optimism.
The flipside is the arrival of United States captain Todd Clever in Johannesburg for his first taste of Super Rugby with the Lions.
But Eloff’s class of 2009 look no better than the outfit that managed just two wins (against fellow strugglers the Cheetahs in Round One and the Chiefs in Round 13) this year.
However, Eloff, the eternal optimist, is adamant that he does have the right mix.
“I am very happy with the quality of players that I have at my disposal,” Eloff told rugby365.com, after his team had completed the first phase of their pre-season build-up.
With no injuries he had a full squad to work with when they gathered in mid-November.
“I am satisfied with what we achieved thus far,” Eloff said, adding that his players are now on their year-end break and will reconvene in the first week of January.
He also confirmed that Grobbelaar, who first took over the captaincy when No.8 Ernst Joubert suffered a long-term injury setback in this year’s Super 14, will continue to lead the side and there is no plans for Joubert to take over.
“Grobbelaar has been an inspiration to the team and players,” Eloff said of the 27-year-old loose forward, affectionately know as Baywatch.
Grobbelaar has been an integral part of the Lions for many years.
The hard-working loose forward, who mostly play on the flank, but is equally at home at No.8, has represented the Lions at all levels – from school to Super 14.
With 78 Currie Cup caps and 50 Super Rugby games to his credit, he is a player who demands respect from his teammates and the opposition and is not afraid to put his body on the line.
Many feels he has been one of the unluckiest players not to have received a Springbok call-up, but he played for South Africa ‘A’ – the next best thing after the Boks – in 2004.
Along with World Cup-winning centre Jaque Fourie, Grobbelaar is the backbone of the Lions squad.Tweet