Whiteley: Maybe the wake-up call Lions needed

Super Rugby

JOHANNESBURG – How kind the rugby gods have been to the Lions. And they now need to take full advantage.

The Stormers losing for a second week in a row and the Sharks being held to a draw by the Rebels have allowed the Lions (32 points) to open a six-point lead on their nearest challengers in the South African Group, the Stormers (26), with the Sharks on 24.

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Elton Jantjies, seen here breaking the line against the Jaguares, kicked the decisive penalty for the Lions. Photo: Kim Ludbrook, EPAWarren Whiteley says it’s “not acceptable being good one week and slipping up the next” for the Lions. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

Of course, things would have been very different had the Lions lost to the Jaguares on Friday night, but the home side fought back late in the game and thanks to an excellently taken penalty by Elton Jantjies with two minutes left on the clock won a rather forgettable encounter 24-21.

It was arguably the Lions’ worst performance at home in almost a year, but they now head to Australia for three matches there with their home record extended to 10 unbeaten games.

The narrow victory – their seventh in eight matches – has left Johan Ackermann’s team in a very favourable position at the halfway point of the competition.

But they now have to get the better of the weak Australian sides, the Force, Rebels and Brumbies, to fully be in charge as the competition starts to get to the business end of matters next month.

Captain Warren Whiteley, who led his tour party out of South Africa en route to Perth on Sunday, said the close shave against the men from South America was possibly exactly what the Lions needed ahead of the trip.

“We were lucky, that’s for sure,” he said after the match. “It was maybe the wake-up call we needed, and it just goes to show, you can’t underestimate anyone.”

Warren Whiteley says it’s “not acceptable being good one week and slipping up the next” for the Lions. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

Indeed, while the Force, Rebels and Brumbies have won only six games between them, the Lions will know they’re going to have to work very hard in the coming weeks if they’re to get the desired results.

They’ll know full well what happened to the Waratahs (against the Kings this week) and what the Rebels did to the Sharks... no team can be taken lightly.

“We dipped off against the Jaguares (after the win against the Stormers) and that’s not good enough... we need to be more consistent and put quality performances together from one week to the next,” Whiteley said.

“It’s not acceptable being good one week and slipping up the next. This competition certainly keeps you on your toes, and we’re now fully aware of that as we go on tour.”

The Lions will be without key flank Jaco Kriel on their trip Down Under as he rests a knee injury picked up on Friday, while wing Madosh Tambwe will also be absent as he teams up with the SA Under-20 side as they prepare for the Junior World Championship in a few weeks’ time.

Wing Ruan Combrinck, who’s been sidelined since December last year after undergoing a shoulder operation, has also stayed home, even though he was expected to make his comeback to action this last weekend.

Combrinck is now expected to return to the Lions team when they return from their tour.

Tour Fixtures

Saturday: Western Force 1.55pm.

May 6: Rebels 7am.

May 12: Brumbies 11.45am.

Lions Tour Squad

Backs: Faf de Klerk, Ross Cronjé, Dillon Smit, Elton Jantjies, Courtnall Skosan, Harold Vorster, Jacques Nel, Lionel Mapoe, Sylvian Mahuza, Andries Coetzee, Anthony Volmink.

Forwards: Jacques van Rooyen, Corné Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, Johannes Jonker, Hencus van Wyk, Akker van der Merwe, Robbie Coetzee, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Lourens Erasmus, Ruan Ackermann, Warren Whiteley (captain), Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink, Robert Kruger.

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