South Africa’s relegated Golden Lions have lined up games against Russia and Samoa, and French and US rugby clubs next season ahead of their attempt to win back a place in the Super 15.
In a 16-game schedule released on Tuesday, the Johannesburg-based team are also to play French Top 14 teams Agen, Montpellier, Grenoble and Mont-de-Marsan, and go on a three-match tour of the US and Canada — with two games against a US Invitational side and one against the Chicago Lions.
The Lions open their season against Russia at home at Ellis Park on Jan. 19. Last year’s Currie Cup champions play Namibia away on Feb. 23 and Samoa at home on June 1.
As well as the four French clubs, the Lions also have a game against the French Barbarians on June 8. They play the US Invitational team on successive weekends in mid-April in California and Vancouver, before going to Chicago. The Lions were relegated from the Super 15 by the South African Rugby Union this year after finishing last, and replaced with Port Elizabeth’s Southern Kings. They can reclaim their Super Rugby status in a two-leg promotion-relegation playoff against the lowest-finishing South African team in July and August.
There were also five fixtures planned against local rivals and current South African Super 15 teams the Free State Cheetahs, the Northern Bulls, the Western Stormers, the Coastal Sharks and the Southern Kings.
The Lions and Bulls will meet on Feb. 2 at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, the venue where the Bulls won the Super rugby title in 2010 in the first rugby game played in the township.
The Lions still play in South Africa’s domestic Currie Cup competition, but their Super 15 relegation initially left them with no rugby until the domestic competition kicks off in August next year.