JOHANNESBURG – Springbok captain Warren Whiteley, pictured, is expected back on the rugby field before Christmas.
Felled by a groin injury in June - just two Tests into his captaincy of the national team - Whiteley is already in Japan and preparing for a return to the game by mid to late December.
In his absence the Springboks have been led by lock Eben Etzebeth, while several players have been tried at eighthman, among them Jean-Luc du Preez, Uzair Cassiem, Francois Louw and currently Duane Vermeulen.
Lions team doctor Rob Collins confirmed to Independent Media on Friday that Whiteley will be playing by the end of the year.
“He returned to Japan last Saturday already and while he’s not 100 percent ready to take to the field, he’s made excellent progress,” said Collins.
“He’s currently doing field running without pain or discomfort and his next step is to make contact and do some agility work; that is all that’s left for him to do. I expect him to be playing by mid-December.”
Whiteley is contracted to the NTT Red Hurricanes and based in Osaka. The team are currently in sixth place out of eight in Group A of the Japan Top League. Their next match is next Saturday against the Ricoh Black Rams.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin said Whiteley was insistent on returning to Japan to honour his contract with the Red Hurricanes.
“Obviously we’d have liked him here to keep an eye on things, but Warren wanted to honour his responsibilities of being an overseas player at his club. I know he’ll be responsible, though, and will only play if he feels he’s ready and fully fit.
“That groin has given him all sorts of problems and at the end, it was a fourth issue we had to deal with; that is the nerve in the groin that was problematic.
“But once we found the real problem, Warren’s recovery has gone very well, and quickly. I’m confident he’ll be fine. I know he won’t push himself.”
The Lions skipper picked up the injury while playing for the Boks against France in June and withdrew on the eve of the third Test in that series. He underwent two operations to help mend what is called a sportsman’s groin injury and also had problems in his hip.
Meanwhile, the career of Lions and Springbok tighthead prop Julian Redelinghuys appears to be over.
The 28-year-old, who has earned eight Bok caps since making his debut in 2014, broke his neck during the Currie Cup semi-finals in the latter stages of 2016 and missed the entire 2017 season.
He has undergone surgery to fuse vertebrae in his neck and earlier this year said he’d wait for specialist opinion before deciding on his future.
But while he will continue to hold out hope he will be able to return to the field in future, Lions boss De Bruin said yesterday Redelinghuys was done with rugby.
“He’s finished with rugby,” the Lions coach explained. “We’re using him in a number of roles here at the union, but I doubt he’ll play again. It’s over for him.”
Redelinghuys is one of three tighthead props who’d otherwise be considered first choice men for the Bok No 3 jersey on the sidelines - the others being Frans Malherbe and Coenie Oosthuizen.