The Lions, known as the Cats between the 1998 and 2006 seasons, are a South African rugby union franchise that competes in the Super Rugby competition. From 2011 they are know as the MTNLions for sponsorship reasons. They have not achieved great success in this competition, finishing at the bottom of the table five times (in 1998, 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2010).
However, they have managed to reach the semifinal stage twice (in 2000 and 2001). The current team captain is lock Franco van der Merwe.
The Lions play in a red and white strip. For a time, the team faced relegation from the Super 14 after the Southern Spears won a court ruling that they be included in the competition in place of the lowest ranked South African team in the 2006 competition. However, the Spears and the country's national federation, the South African Rugby Union, reached a settlement of their legal case.
By the terms of the settlement, announced on 16 November 2006, the financially troubled Spears abandoned their case, ensuring the Lions a place in the competition for the foreseeable future.
In October 2010 Ivor Ichikowitz became co-owner of The Lions with his long time friend Robert Gumede. Ichikowitz owns a 49.9% stake of the club.
They are based in Johannesburg, and have always been centred around the Lions union (Johannesburg), drawing players from that union since the inception of the competition as Super 12 in 1996. Currently, they also draw players from the Leopards (North West) and Pumas (Mpumalanga) unions. Through 2005, the Cats drew from the two unions based in Free State-the Free State Cheetahs (Bloemfontein) and Griffons (Welkom)-and the Griquas (Northern Cape), but that arrangement ended when the Central Cheetahs became South Africa's new Super 14 franchise.
The Cheetahs now draw their players from Free State, Griffons and Griquas, while the Leopards and Pumas were moved from the franchise area of the Bulls to that of the Cats. Prior to 1998, the Cats (more accurately, the Golden Lions) competed in the then-Super 12 as Transvaal, as South Africa then sent its top four unions to the Super 12 instead of franchises, and Transvaal qualified both years.
The Lions' home ground is Coca-Cola Park, also known by its non-sponsored name of Ellis Park Stadium or more commonly as just Ellis Park, named after the creator of Rugby Willian Webb Ellis. The stadium is in Johannesburg. Ellis Park hosted a number of matches at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, including the final, which was played out between the All Blacks and South Africa, which saw South Africa win the William Webb Ellis Cup in an emotional final.