JOHANNESBURG - Inspirational Lions captain Warren Whiteley is back in the selection mix and set to captain his team on their four-week trip of Australasia, starting this weekend.
Whiteley was on Monday named in the 27-man squad for the Super Rugby tour of Australia and New Zealand where the Lions will face the Waratahs, Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders. The two-time runners-up from 2016 and 2017 are currently second in the points standings behind the Hurricanes, winners of the competition in 2016.
The Springbok No 8 injured his knee in the shock 38-35 defeat to the Blues on March 10 and missed the matches against the Sunwolves, Jaguares, Crusaders and Stormers. In his absence the Lions were lead by Franco Mostert and went down to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires and the Crusaders at Ellis Park.
The Lions though hit back in style last weekend after a difficult month with their skipper on the sidelines, thumping the Stormers and getting the perfect boost ahead of their trip Down Under.
Also back in the selection mix is centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who has sat out the last two matches, while wing Ruan Combrinck returned to the fold for the Stormers match after being sidelined for several months with a shoulder problem.
Not considered for the tour were scrumhalf Ross Cronje, who has battled with rib and knee problems of late, as well as hot shot wing Aphiwe Dyantyi, who hurt his knee a few weeks ago, and is expected to return to the fold when the Lions are back from their tour. Fellow wing Courtnall Skosan is also likely to be back in the mix at that stage.
In Cronje’s absence, Lions boss Swys de Bruin will have to choose between Dillon Smit and new recruit Nic Groom, who joined the Lions from Northampton last week. The former Stormers man will bring considerable experience to the Lions scrumhalf position having played at Super Rugby level for several seasons while living in the Cape.
Erasmus’ squad includes nine Springboks and also the promising youngsters Madosh Tambwe, Hacjivah Dayimani and Cyle Brink. Elton Jantjies’ backup at flyhalf will be Ashlon Davids, while Malcolm Marx will be supported at hooker by the experienced Robbie Coetzee.
The Lions leave on Tuesday for Australia where they will face the Waratahs – currently third on the combined log with five wins from seven games – on Friday, before facing the Reds (12th on the log) the following week. In New Zealand they’ll square off with the Hurricanes (first with six wins from seven) and the Highlanders (seventh thanks to four wins from six matches).
Lions tour squad: Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Madosh Tambwe, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Ashlon Davids, Nic Groom, Dillon Smit, Warren Whiteley, Kwagga Smith, Hacjivah Dayimani, Marnus Schoeman, Cyle Brink, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Marvin Orie, Lourens Erasmus, Ruan Dreyer, Johannes Jonker, Jacques van Rooyen, Jacobie Adriaanse, Dylan Smith, Robbie Coetzee, Malcolm Marx.