CAPE TOWN – The best news to come out of Sunday’s pre-season friendly between the Lions and Sharks at the Cape Town Stadium was Lions captain Warren Whiteley getting through the outing without a hiccup.
The inspirational Lions No 8 had battled with a calf injury in the latter stages of last year and then hurt his other calf during his December holidays, but was cleared to play in the week before Sunday’s game.
And not only did the Lions captain enjoy an incident-free time on the field, he lead from the front, winning the Man of the Match award as well.
For the record, the Lions won 19-14 in the first of the day’s two games in the Superhero Sunday double-header.
But there was a lot more on the line for Lions coach Swys de Bruin than just the result.
Besides Whiteley having to show he is ready to captain his side again in Super Rugby this year, De Bruin and his fellow coaches would have been keen to see the players tick a number of boxes.
With Bok prop stalwart Ruan Dreyer no longer available, the Lions needed to find a back-up tighthead, and new import Carlu Sadie certainly stood his ground against a strong Sharks scrum, while the scrumming in general would have given the Lions coaches plenty to smile about.
The performances upfront of Kwagga Smith, Malcolm Marx and Marvin Orie were also impressive so early on in the year, while rookie loose forward Hacjivah Dayimani showed he is ready to step up in Super Rugby this year, having shone in the Currie Cup last season.
He played at blindside flank on Sunday and may feature there throughout the campaign – the Lions needing to find a man to wear the No 7 on his back this year.
At the back, Elton Jantjies was the big star, varying his game well, as he usually does. His kicks into space asked plenty of the Sharks defenders, and it seems it will be a tactic used by the three-time runners-up regularly this season.
Also, Jantjies’ kick-pass option, when there was nothing else on in attack, caught the Sharks out on occasion, and it could also be a handy tactic during the campaign.
De Bruin and Co will be happy there were no injuries reported afterwards, and that all the squad members have now had a run to get rid of the off-season rust.
As the head coach said on Sunday: “I’ll give the performance a pass, but not a good pass.”
The Lions will now finalise their squad for Super Rugby, and wrap up preparations for the start of the competition in just under two weeks’ time.
They’ll fly out to Buenos Aires next Wednesday, February 13 ahead of the clash against the Jaguares on February 16.@jacq_west