JOHANNESBURG – The Lions may have a bye this week but there will be no “putting their feet up” as the franchise look to resolve a number of issues that have befallen them in recent times.
First, and most important, on the “to-do-list” will be figuring out if, and when, head coach Swys de Bruin will be ready to return to take charge of the side.
It is understood the Lions boss has been given time and space to work on his stress related problem that caused him to leave the team in New Zealand nearly 10 days ago. He returned home from the Lions’ Australasian tour one day before the match against the Chiefs - which the side went on to win in Hamilton - and is believed to have spent the last while working with specialists to help him cope with the pressures of his job.
In his absence, the Lions have been led by regular conditioning boss Ivan van Rooyen, with assistant coaches Phillip Lemmer and Neil de Bruin as his deputies.
The other assistant coach, Joey Mongalo, also left New Zealand 10 days ago after being convicted and sentenced for indecent assault by a Sydney court. He was found guilty of an offence committed in a hotel with an employee while the Lions were on tour last year. Mongalo has appealed against the finding, with the case to be heard later in the year.
His fate with the Lions though is in the balance after he appeared before an internal disciplinary hearing last week, with the finding due out this week. If Mongalo is relieved of his duties, the Lions are believed to be considering roping in Springbok defence coach Jacques Nienaber to help the squad out until the end of the season.
Defence has been one of the team’s major stumbling blocks this season, with the side having let in 37 tries in 10 matches, to the 32 they have scored. Their last defeat, to the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday, saw them concede five tries, which after the weekend has left them in last place in the five-team SA Conference with 22 points.
Also high on the agenda in the coming days will be finding out how serious the knee injury is suffered by captain Warren Whiteley. The regular Lions skipper hurt his knee in the latter stages of the win against the Chiefs - in his first match back after a seven-match layoff due to a chest problem - and didn’t play against the Crusaders. He is expected to see specialists today and have scans of the knee done to determine the severity of the injury.
He could join young flyhalf Gianni Lombard on the sidelines, the former SA Schools star having picked up a serious knee problem that has ended his season. He’ll be out of action for nine months.
The Lions have plenty of “problem-solving” to do in the coming days before they can turn their attention to their next match - against the Waratahs at Ellis Park next Saturday.@jacq_west