Coach Swys takes blowtorch start at the Lions in his stride
Swys de Bruin concedes filling the boots vacated by Johan Ackermann will take some doing. He's undaunted, however.
"What helps is I walked five years with him," smiled Ackermann's loyal lieutenant who recently graduated to the Lions' top job.
The transition has proved challenging.
Ackermann had steered the Lions to the top of the Super Rugby points table and a second consecutive final, but going into the latest round of Currie Cup matches the Lions found themselves at the foot of the table.
"We actually saw this movie play itself out last year," said the typically unfazed De Bruin. "It is actually slightly more difficult this season because the Currie Cup was three weeks deep before we played the final."
The Lions' resources stretched
De Bruin also reminds that the Lions are without 19 players who are on Bok duty, playing in Japan, on loan to the Kings, injured or banned, as in the case of Kwagga Smith.
In the wake of their defeat to Western Province last week, De Bruin has had to shake things up. He has again taken over responsibility for plotting the team's attack, JP Ferreira will guard their defence, while Joey Mangalo will hone the team's skills.
"The change was too big," noted De Bruin who was instrumental in acquiring the services of Victor Matfield as a forwards consultant. It was a move that wasn't universally popular.
"I have faith in Victor," said De Bruin. "He still has to find his feet. I expect him to impart his wisdom and his experience. He was wearing his boots earlier when the team was doing their lineout drills."
Keeping sight of the bigger picture
Apart from strapping on boots, De Bruin appreciates as a collective they all have to roll up their sleeves. "We have to coach again. Over the last two, three years we could afford to take our foot off the pedal in terms of coaching the Super Rugby side. Increasingly the players take responsibility. When you have a Warren Whiteley or a Jaco Kriel you can hand over lots of those components. That's what we call progressive coaching."
The same applies to Elton Jantjies, whom De Bruin can't wait to get back. "Elton is our general. He's the best flyhalf I've ever coached. He's a genius. He's very professional. He ran the show from 10, much in the way he's doing at the Boks. We miss him."
Chasing the Currie Cup is not as much of a priority as preparing for Super Rugby.
De Bruin wants to restore confidence in the Currie Cup group, not undermine it. "We don't have composure. The only way to master it is to find yourself in that situation often enough. Technique becomes skill.
"If you start talking about winning it becomes tougher. It is exactly that kind of pressure we don't want to put on the players right now. They are under pressure as it is.
"For some of those players they would have been top of the log in Super Rugby a month ago, now they are bottom of the Currie Cup. That's a major adjustment you have to deal with between your ears."
With Faf de Klerk, Akker van der Merwe and Ruan Ackermann the only defectors, next season De Bruin will have the spine of the team that reached two Super Rugby finals.
"Some guys have been loaned to the Kings, some of our players will get Springbok contracts, which will free up some money so that our farm can continue to produce."
He will demand already sky high fitness levels to reach deeper into the stratosphere.
We play to thrill
"The All Blacks have the skills to back up the very high tempo at which they play. That is what is the difference between our Currie Cup players and those in Super Rugby."
De Bruin knows that is key in maintaining the joi de vivre with which the Lions have built their brand. "We play to thrill and we even enjoy training. If we only worry about winning or losing we'll lose that. We don't have rules, we have values. We established something here in five years that is unique."