JOHANNESBURG - The Lions are looking for a new team leader after regular skipper Warren Whiteley was ruled out of action for four weeks with a knee injury.
The inspirational captain and No 8 joins flank and regular stand-in skipper Jaco Kriel on the sidelines.
Whiteley picked up the posterior cruciate ligament injury against the Blues. It was only his fourth match back in Lions colours since hurting his groin while on Springbok duty in June last season.
Kriel, who stood in for Whiteley then as the Lions marched towards a home final, has been on the sidelines since the latter stages of last year and only last week had to undergo a second shoulder operation, ruling him out for a further six months.
Now with Whiteley out, coach Swys de Bruin has to name a new captain for the forthcoming matches against the Sunwolves (home), Jaguares (away), Crusaders (home) and Stormers (home). His options at this stage include scrumhalf Ross Cronje and flyhalf Elton Jantjies, both of whom have led the side before.
The other option is Kwagga Smith, who has plenty of experience having played all over the world with the Sevens team, but he will shortly leave the Lions to join up with Neil Powell’s squad as they prepare for the Commonwealth Games.
Malcolm Marx would also be an option, but so, too, Jacques van Rooyen, who has led the Currie Cup side.
The change in captaincy compounds the problems for the Lions as they also have to deal with the unexpected loss against the Blues. The Lions will probably still be wondering how they gave up a 21-3 lead to lose against a side who have hardly been a consistent factor over the past few seasons.
Some video analysis would have revealed that the Blues enjoyed the bulk of possession - 64% to the Lions’ 36% - and asked many more questions of the Lions defence than vice-versa. Also, the Blues spent much of the second half camped in Lions territory; the home side unable to push the visitors back into their own half.
De Bruin lamented the fact his team’s leaders - in the absence of Whiteley - failed to take charge in the latter stages, and he’ll no doubt have given them a bit of a roasting.
“It’s a setback,” said De Bruin about Whiteley’s injury. “Warren is one of a kind and a fantastic leader, but there are Springboks in our whole spine (hooker, No 8, scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback) and they need to stand up. There are lots of leaders in this team.”
The only good news for the Lions, who have to hit back in style this week, is that they’re up against the worst team in the competition in the Sunwolves. The men from Japan are coming off a 50-22 beating by the Sharks.
It’s a big week for the Lions and how they respond will say a lot about their bounce-back-ability.