Lions have plans to take on the world
THE Lions are set to become the Harlem Globetrotters of rugby as they tread water outside Super rugby.
After being relegated for finishing last in 2012, their place was awarded to the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings and, as a consequence, the Johannesburg team has to travel far and wide to find games.
Commercially their survival depends on attracting healthy crowds to Ellis Park - Coca-Cola has not renewed its sponsorship of the stadium, meaning a reported R12-million loss for the Lions - and that starts with a match against Russia next Saturday.
Of course, with no competition structure all their matches are over-hyped friendlies, but it was the only choice available to the Lions and, in some ways, the players will benefit from a season with a difference.
There will be no more trudging to New Zealand's south island or the boredom associated with another visit to Canberra.
Instead they have matches in California, Vancouver and Chicago, as well as a trip to Windhoek.
There are also a whopping 12 games at Ellis Park against exotic opponents such as Grenoble, Montpellier, Agen and Samoa. It beats the humdrum of another visit from the Force or Cheetahs in terms of novelty value. Oddly, their games mean nothing and everything.
For the French clubs, it will be a chance to build for their new season, while Samoa will use it as a warm-up for a Test against the Boks.
For Lions coach Johann Ackerman it's a chance to build a side towards the vital Super 15 promotion-relegation match without the pressure of needing to win or fight for log points.
That vital double-headed contest against the last-placed South African team in July and August is the sole focus for the Lions in the next eight months and they have a long build-up to be healthily placed when the time comes.
January 19: vs Russia at Ellis Park (7pm)
January 26: vs Cheetahs, Ellis Park (5pm)
February 2: vs Bulls at Orlando Stadium (3pm)
February 9: vs Kings at Ellis Park (TBC)
February 23: vs Namibia in Windhoek (TBC)
March 16: vs Mont de Marsan at Ellis Park (7.30pm)
April 13: vs US Invitational in Irvine, California (TBC)
April 20: vs North American Barbarians in Vancouver, Canada (TBC)
April 27: vs Chicago Lions, Chicago (TBC)
May 11: vs Agen at Ellis Park (3pm)
June 1: vs Samoa at Ellis Park (3pm)
June 8: vs French Barbarians at Ellis Park (2pm)
June 15: vs Stormers at Ellis Park (2pm)
June 21: vs Sharks at Ellis Park (7pm)
July 12: vs Montpellier at Ellis Park (7pm)
July 20: vs Grenoble at Ellis Park (2.30pm)
July 27: Promotion-relegation play-off (TBC)
August 3: Promotion-relegation Ellis Park (no kick-off time decided)