About 100 years ago, the Republic of the Transvaal joined forces with the Free State Republic and together they almost defeated the might of the British Empire in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

Their paltry forces defied unbelievable odds to keep the Poms at bay ... so why the hell do they find it so difficult to put up a fight when they are reunited in arms for Super 12 battle?

Of course, I am being a touch simplistic here, but for heaven's sake, it is not as if the Cats are a collaboration between the English and the French, or the Iraqis and the Yanks. Actually, you Kiwis are to thank for the unworkable system that is the South African regional Super 12 franchises.

When you guys started doing it, in 1996, the confused South African administrators figured that it must be the obvious way to go, without remembering that it is easier for your provinces to combine when they are all fields on the same farm.

But Johannesburg (where the Lions are based) and Bloemfontein (Free State) are about 500km apart.

It was a marriage made in hell and, funnily enough, the only occasions when the Cats got their claws out of each other and played some rugby was when old poker face, Laurie Mains, put an end to the bulldust in his inimitable way.

In his two years at the Cats, rivalries were banished and the star-laden squad made the semi-finals.

When he returned to Dunedin, the Cats imploded and have been at the bottom of the table ever since.

In the Currie Cup, Free State are probably South Africa's most popular team because of the "Fiji" style rugby they play.

The Lions are not too bad either, but the two mix together about as well as oil and water.

This year, the Cats have five home games - three will be at Ellis Park and two at the Free State Stadium. That means just two home games for the Free Staters and three for the Lions players.

Chester Williams, the coach, is in his second year of coaching after succeeding Tim Lane, who was sacked last year.

This year he is joined by Rassie Erasmus, the former Springbok flanker who retired last year after leading Free State to the Currie Cup final (they lost to the Bulls). Another former Free Stater, Brenden Venter, is defensive coach.

These young coaches are competitive, ambitious and shrewd.

If ever I have seen a time bomb waiting to explode ... By the end of the season, one of those three will have a knife in his back.

The trio have at their disposal some excellent backline talent but their forwards are likely to provide only half-decent possession.

With the exception of the athletic hooker Schalk Britz, we are looking at a tight five Dad's Army that has an average age well into the 30s.

Yes, they will know a trick or two at scrum time, but that's the last we will see of has-beens such as Marius Hurter (back from his retirement pay-day in Britain).

Likewise Naka Drotske, and you have to question the wisdom of signing Ollie le Roux, a great Shark in his day, but he did not play at all last year after falling out with the Sharks who said he was unfit.

The Cats have some splendid backs, poor fellows, because they are seldom going to get possession on the front foot. And that is a heck of a pity because South African rugby urgently needs to see the talented Andre Pretorius in full flight.

He is a supremely gifted flyhalf but keeps on getting injured.

The Cats have another top flyhalf in Free Stater Willem de Waal. He is massive and can play the gain-line game that the diminutive Pretorius cannot.

De Waal can kick the ball a mile and tackles offensively, while Pretorius doesn't have the physical attributes to do more than get in the way.

They are two excellent flyhalves but it is doubtful that we will see the best of them, or the excellent Jaque Fourie, the gangly, highly elusive No 13.

There are strong rumours that the unworkable Cats franchise is to be disbanded so that Free State can go home to Bloemfontein to form South Africa's fifth Super 12 team. Thank heavens if that's the case.


VITAL STATS


Titles: 0


Finals: 0


Best finish: 3rd round robin, beaten semifinals 2001


Worst finish: 12th in 1998, 2003, 2004


Biggest win: 41-7, v Stormers, 1998


Biggest loss: 64-0 v Brumbies 2000


Backs


Conrad Jantjes


Ashwin Willemse


Chumani Booi


Eddie Fredricks


Jaque Fourie


Jorrie Muller


Wayne Julies


Dewey Swartbooi


Doppies La Grange


Andre Pretorius


Willem de Waal


Tiaan Snyman


Neil Powell


Michael Claasens


Forwards


Russel Winter


Gerhard Vosloo


Juan Smith


Wikus van Heerden


Baywatch Grobelaar


Hendro Scholtz


Boela du Plooy


Gordon Gilfillan


Willem Stoltz


Barend Pieterse


Lawrence Sephaka


Marius Hurter


CJ van der Linde


Ollie le Roux


Os du Randt


Lukas van Biljon


Schalk Brits


Naka Drotske