Speculation has been rife about the reasons behind De Bruin’s return home on the eve of Friday’s Super Rugby match against the Chiefs in Hamilton – which the Lions won 23-17 – but he put the theories to bed by stating there was nothing untoward about his leaving the Lions in New Zealand.
“I can guarantee you there has been no breakdown in the relationship between me and anyone in the team or at the union,” said De Bruin yesterday.
“There has been no interference, no-one has prescribed to me what to do, and no pressure has been put on me.”
De Bruin added the players in the Lions squad were aware of his “medical condition” and supported him fully.
“This is a personal matter and I am receiving professional help for it. It was our team doctor (Rob Collins), after I’d first spoken to my wife and (Lions CEO) Rudolf Straeuli, who actually said it would be best for me to return home. It was in my and the team’s best interests.”
It wasn’t only the news of De Bruin’s exit from the team that raised eyebrows before kickoff on Friday. The sight of Bok stars Elton Jantjies and Malcolm Marx running out in the starting team also surprised. De Bruin had earlier in the week picked them on the bench, according to the team’s rotation policy.
Straeuli said yesterday “everything was under control” in the Lions camp.
“There was no fall-out (between Swys and anyone else). He returned home because of a medical condition, and we respect that,” said Straeuli.
“There is no reason for any panic, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Ivan (van Rooyen) will take charge of the team and he also has strong leaders around him who know the team set-up. Warren (Whiteley) is also back and we know what a good leader he is.”
Conditioning coach, Van Rooyen, who was put in charge of the side during last year’s Currie Cup competition while De Bruin was on Springbok duty, has been handed the reins.
The Lions, who’re just past the halfway mark in the Super Rugby competition, face the defending champions, the Crusaders, in Christchurch on Friday.
Marx, meanwhile, is headed home to rest this week, according to Straeuli. He has followed two other Lions players to return home from tour - wing Courtnall Skosan, who left the squad last week because his father was ill, and flyhalf Gianni Lombard, who is coming home after hurting his knee in an impressive showing against the Chiefs.
Heading to New Zealand are hooker Jan-Henning Campher and flyhalf Shaun Reynolds.
Another Lions coach has returned to Joburg, too.
Defence guru Joey Mongalo has returned after being found guilty of indecent assault by a Sydney court. It follows an incident with a hotel employee in a Sydney hotel stairwell while the Lions were on tour last year.
Mongalo was convicted and sentenced last week. He is set to face a Lions disciplinary hearing.
He indicated he would appeal the conviction and sentence, believed to be a fine and a suspended community service sanction.
“I simply can’t comment on the situation around Joey because it is a legal matter. And Swys’ situation is personal. He needs some space right now,” said Straeuli.@jacq_west