JOHANNESBURG – Already without key loose-forwards Warren Whiteley and Cyle Brink, the Lions are now also sweating over the fitness of the versatile Kwagga Smith.
The former Sevens star has been one of the Lions’ key Super Rugby players in the absence of Whiteley and Brink in recent weeks, being the experienced operator in a backrow that has featured rookies like Hacjivah Dayimani and Vincent Tshituka.
Smith has returned to the kind of form that saw him become a Springbok early last season and the Lions losing him now, to a potential groin injury, would be a hammer blow.
After two escapes in as many weeks, against the Jaguares and Rebels, the Lions travel to Singapore this week for a date with the Sunwolves and they cannot afford to slip up after just getting back on track.
Smith’s experience will be key on the road and in unfamiliar surroundings, especially if Lions coach Swys de Bruin has to make a change at blindside flank this week as Tshituka is almost sure to be ruled out of the trip.
The rookie flank, who has started the last two games, took a knock to his head and injured his ankle against the Rebels, and may be forced to stay at home this week.
More on the fitness and health of Smith and Tshituka will be made known by the Lions medical team today.
Complicating selection matters for De Bruin is the fact that Whiteley and Brink are still not ready to return after spending a fair amount of time on the sidelines. Brink has been injured since August last year and is only expected back on the field in a week or two, while Whiteley could be ready to join his team when they leave for New Zealand in a month’s time.
Meanwhile, the Lions have opted to do most of their preparation for Saturday’s showdown with the Sunwolves in Singapore at home before boarding their flight to the east tomorrow.
De Bruin said the Lions preferred to be in Johannesburg for as long as possible and that previous late departures had worked out well for the team.
The Lions won in Sydney against the Waratahs last season after only leaving Johannesburg on the Wednesday, three days before the match (and they kept the Australian side scoreless), while earlier this season they also only arrived in Argentina a few days before taking on, and beating, the Jaguares.
“The guys prefer going later and Singapore is anyway a hot and humid place at the moment,” said De Bruin. “We’ll do our training here on Monday and Tuesday, and leave on Wednesday ... leave ourselves to have only one session on that side before the match.”
It will be the Lions’ first visit to Singapore after previously playing against the Sunwolves at Ellis Park and at Tokyo's Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.@jacq_west