European Professional Club Rugby | Everything you need to know: Lions

We complete our look at the two South African teams added to next season’s EPCR Challenge Cup by profiling the Johannesburg-based Lions.


The Lions’ home ground is Emirates Airline Park, which, as Ellis Park, staged a number of matches during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, including the final, in which South Africa South beat New Zealand. The 62,567 seat stadium is located in Johannesburg.

Top Honors

The Lions, formed in 1889 to look after the welfare of Gauteng rugby clubs, have won South Africa’s Currie Cup 11 times, the Lion Cup and Vodacom Cup five times each and the Super 10 once .

They have also reached the Super Rugby final on three occasions – in successive years from 2016 to 2018 – but have been beaten each time.

The head coach

Ivan van Rooyen has been the Lions’ head coach since 2019, having served as an assistant coach for a year. Previously, he was a strength and conditioning coach since 2009.

Key players

Arguably the most famous player in the Lions squad is former South African prop Jannie du Plessis, who was on the bench for their success in the 2007 World Cup final. The 39-year-old, who won 70 caps with the Springboks, already has European rugby experience, having played 17 matches for Montpellier Hérault Rugby, including the start of their 26-19 victory in the 2016 EPCR Challenge Cup final against Harlequins.

Former Stade Français Paris lock Willem Alberts is another former Springbok who made a Challenge Cup final for a French side, having played 14 games for the Stade, including their 2017 decider against Gloucester Rugby, when he came on as a substitute in their 25-17 win.

Other South African internationals in the Lions squad are former Gloucester flanker Jaco Kriel and prop Ruan Dreyer, as well as winger Jamba Ulengo.

This season

The Lions finished 12th in the United Rugby Championship having won just eight of their 18 games and bottom of the Currie with two wins from 12 games.

Charles P. Patton