De Bruin and Mongalo left the squad for different reasons on the eve of the team’s second tour match in Hamilton, New Zealand recently and returned home to Joburg, and after the bye week are back working with the three-time Super Rugby runners-up.
Loose forward Kwagga Smith, who captained the side in the last of the three tour matches against the Crusaders 10 days ago, said it made a big difference to have everyone back working together again.
“Everyone is settled in again, and that makes a difference,” said Smith. It’s also nice to be back home. Injuries to some key players throughout our campaign have possibly affected us more than anything, but the key is for us to focus only on those things we can control.”
Scrumhalf Ross Cronje said not having De Bruin and Mongalo for nearly two weeks of the trip Down Under had been a “little disruptive”.
“Of course we missed two quality coaches and that was maybe a little disruptive, but the guys who stepped in, like coach Cash (Ivan van Rooyen), did a fantastic job. He, together with the forwards and backs coaches (Philip Lemmer and Neil de Bruin) were absolute champions. It also helped that coach Swys and Joey stayed in touch with the squad and they sent regular messages through to the team. I certainly felt they were still there, but they just weren’t present.”
De Bruin left the tour because of a medical condition, believed to be stress-related, while Mongalo returned home to face an internal disciplinary hearing at the Lions after being convicted of indecent assault by a Sydney Court. He has appealed the court finding.
Second-row hard-man Marvin Orie said it was “fantastic” to have De Bruin and Mongalo calling the shots at training. “Coach Swys is definitely one of the most important branches in this Lions setup, and Joey too, and it’s fantastic having them back. They’re both very important members of this team.”
The other good news for the Lions is they could have regular captain Warren Whiteley back sooner than expected, possibly this weekend. The inspirational No 8 picked up a knee cartilage issue in the win against the Chiefs in Hamilton – the only game he has played since round two when a chest muscle injury ruled him out for several weeks – and it was feared he’d again be sidelined for some time.
Whiteley though trained fully with his teammates yesterday and he and Cyle Brink could join Smith in the back row this weekend when the Lions host the Waratahs at Ellis Park on Saturday. Also expected to be back in the mix is powerful loosehead prop Dylan Smith, who broke a cheekbone in the win against the Rebels and has been sidelined ever since.
De Bruin will announce his team to take on the former champions tomorrow.@jacq_west