Preview: Lions v Russia
Lions coach Johan Ackermann will field five debutants in his starting line-up against Russia at Coca-cola Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
It's the first match of the Lions Challenge series, which sees the demoted Super Rugby outfit take on international teams like the Russians and Samoa, a three-week tour of North America, five games against Top 14 opposition as well as fixtures against all five South African Super Rugby teams.
The new faces in Ackermann's run-on XV are lock Franco Mostert, flank Warwick Tecklenburg, fly-half Lionel Cronje and new midfield in the form of Harold Vorster and Stokkies Hanekom.
Experienced prop JC Janse van Rensburg will lead the team against the Bears, who suffered a 14-0 loss to the University of Johannesburg heading into this fixture.
"Every game will be important for us, but it's especially important that we start this tournament well," Ackermann said after announcing his team on Thursday.
"I'm happy with the mix of players I've got, and we have the opportunity now to try a few players, but there will be a time closer to the end of the competition when I'll have to settle on number one and number two in every position.
"We want to fine-tune our game, get some conditioning and continuity going, especially getting the new players to gel, and it will be our first real contact because we haven't had a lot up till now.
"We want to get our style of play going too, but really I just want to win and get the guys out on the pitch."
Russia are the first of three international teams that the Lions will play this season, but the hosts admitted they knew little about their opening opposition, save for the likelihood that their strength would be concentrated in their pack.
"They traditionally like to keep the ball in front of their forwards, but we enjoy it when teams come here to scrum because we enjoy that too," said Van Rensburg.
The Lions have been bolstered by the arrival of players with Super Rugby experience such as Cronje and Tecklenburg. The talented youngsters have both turned their backs on the Bulls, along with promising lock Mostert..
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (c).
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Jacques Kotze, 19 Hugo Kloppers, 20 Claude Tshibidi, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Ruhan Nel.
Russian Bears: 15 Igor Klyuchnikov, 14 Andrei Otrokov, 13 Yaroslav Rechnev, 12 Alexei Makovetskiy, 11 Mikhail Babaev, 10 Sergei Yanyushkin, 9 Alexander Yanyushkin, 8 Victor Gresev, 7 Artem Fatakhov, 6 Andrey Temnov, 5 Maxim Kiselev, 4 Alexander Voytov, 3 Innokentiy Zykov, 2 Valeriy Tsnobiladze, 1 Grigory Tsnobiladze
Replacements:16 Alexey Volkov, 17 Sergey Novoselov, 18 Evgeny Pronenko, 19 Pavel Kvernadze, 20 Pavel Butenko, 21 Alexei Shcherban, 22 Sergeu Sugrobov, 23 Igor Kurashov
Date: Saturday, January 20
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 19.00 (17.00 GMT)
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe