The Emirates Lions will begin the new season as the intrepid underdogs—underrated by most and seen as the fourth South African club in terms of talent and competitiveness—much as the United Rugby Championship’s (URC) initial season.
Sibusiso Sangweni, a flanker for the Lions, and his colleagues seem unconcerned about this at all. They are making progress toward a very specific goal.
At the beginning of the 2022–23 URC season on Tuesday, Sangweni observed, “There are moments when it is great to be the underdog.” No one really has high expectations for us, but as a team, we have high expectations for ourselves. We have objectives that we have established.
This season, we want to place in the Top 8. We just missed it last year by a couple games. People like being shocked. The last few weeks have seen us come together as a team as we have begun to grow in confidence as a unit.
“The team’s chemistry has been growing, and the togetherness is stunning. We are excited to begin and present what we have been working on over the previous several weeks so that we may wow everyone.
Sangweni said, “Our primary objective this season is to simply be consistent and not have the ups and downs like last season when we began pretty well, then we sank a little, and towards the end we picked it up.
“We want to perform at a consistent level whether we win or lose. That develops as a team as well as with maturity. We had a lot of sudden changes during the previous season, such as a new coaching staff, which we tried to balance with the players.
The 21-year-old Sangweni, a former Baby Bok, has been steadily increasing his participation since joining the Joburg-based union and has quietly been working on his game in recent years as a professional rugby player.
He participated in 14 URC games last year, playing an average of 24 minutes per match.
However, Sangweni’s career may benefit further by the off-season departure of starting wing Vincent Tshituka and see an increase in playing time.
It goes without saying that he must first persuade head coach Ivan van Rooyen that he is a better fit for the matchday 23 than Travis Gordon, Ruan Venter, Francke Horn, Jaco Kriel, Ruhan Straeuli, Emmanuel Tshituka, and Stephan Smit.
The potential return of Willem Alberts, who may fill in at lock or any of the loose-trio positions, is another factor that must be taken into account.
Sangweni and his colleagues will have to put in some significant effort to make that team if the whole squad stays healthy, as Van Rooyen claims, when the Lions begin their URC season on Saturday against the Bulls.
The No. 6 jersey may be up for grabs since former SA Under-20 players Venter, who can also play lock, and Horn arguably have the inside lane. It is anticipated that Kriel will get it and most likely serve as the team’s captain.
Sangweni said that while Emmanuel, Vincent’s younger brother, is also a contender, “it is wonderful to be the underdog occasionally.”