JOHANNESBURG - The show must go on! Lions boss Johan Ackermann would be forgiven if he played the Queen classic in the team bus on the way to Ellis Park today.
The reason: inspirational captain Warren Whiteley is out for the rest of the Super Rugby campaign, but the Lions simply have to dust themselves off and get on with business. And Ackermann, more than anyone, knows this all too well.
“There’s only one Warren Whiteley and what he brings to the team is very special,” said the Lions coach ahead of today’s outing against the Sunwolves (5.15pm). “His work rate is phenomenal and it’s a great pity we have lost him for the rest of the campaign.”
Whiteley is ruled out for between six and eight weeks after tearing a ligament in his pelvic region. “It’s like last year when we lost him (to a calf injury) in the playoffs (against the Highlanders),” lamented Ackermann, “but the rest of the guys now simply have to stand up. We’re certainly going to miss Warren, but the campaign must go on.”
Jaco Kriel will lead the Lions for the remainder of the season, a job he has done before. “Jaco has the experience and there was never any doubt about who’d take over,” said Ackermann.
The new skipper also said the Lions couldn’t - and wouldn’t - dwell on things out of their control. “We’ve got a job to do,” he said. “The leadership group at the Lions has grown under coach Ackers so we’ll look after each other and help each other for as long as we’re in the competition.”
With Whiteley out, Ruan Ackermann will play at eighthman, with Kriel joined on the flank by Kwagga Smith. It is a Lions team packed with Springboks and after the national team’s good showing against France in the recent three-Test series they shouldn’t have too many problems getting past the Sunwolves this evening.
The visitors have won just once in 12 matches in 2017, while the Lions are one of the contenders for the title, having won 12 of 13 matches.
Ackermann, though, said his players would have to be focused for all 80 minutes if they are to pick up the much-needed five points to keep the pressure on log leaders, the Crusaders, who’re unbeaten with a game to play.
“The Sunwolves have shown they can score tries, but they have had their problems in defence. However, if we go into this game with the wrong attitude and don’t show them respect they’ll punish us.
“The good thing is they like to play their rugby at a high intensity, which suits us. But they’ll be motivated,and they’ll be refreshed after the break.
“We know we’re going to have to go at it for 80 minutes.”
The Sunwolves will be led by ex-Lions player Willie Britz.
Teams For Ellis Park
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Ruan Ackermann, Kwagga Smith, Jaco Kriel (capt), Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen.
Bench: Akker van der Merwe, Corné Fourie, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Cyle Brink, Faf de Klerk, Jacques Nel, Sylvian Mahuza.
Sunwolves: Yasutaka Sasakura, Takaaki Nakazuru, Ryohei Yamanaka, Derek Carpenter, Teruya Goto, Jumpei Ogura, Keisuke Uchida, Willie Britz (capt), Shokei Kin, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Kotaro Yatabe, Sam Wykes, Yasuo Yamaji, Atsushi Sakate, Masataka Mikami.
Bench: Takeshi Hino, Koki Yamamoto, Takuma Asahara, Uwe Helu, Malgene Ilaua, Kaito Shigeno, Rikiya Matsuda, Kotaro Matsushima.
Referee: Egon Seconds.