JOHANNESBURG - There were more questions than answers following Lions captain Warren Whiteley’s visit to an orthopaedic surgeon to determine the extent of a recurring knee injury.
But the early signs are not good and will surely have some sort of impact on his teammates when they lineup for their first Super Rugby tour match on Friday against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Whiteley was supposed to return to captain the side on Friday – and for the full four-match tour of Australia and New Zealand – after missing the last five weeks’ of rugby because of posterior cruciate ligament damage in his knee, sustained while playing against the Blues.
But on Monday, the day before the 27-man squad departed to Australasia, the Springbok No 8 felt a “click” in his knee and was withdrawn from the tour squad. He had an MRI scan done on Wednesday and saw a doctor late on the same day, but his employers were unwilling to disclose any major news on Thursday.
All the Lions had to say about the injury was: “Warren Whiteley has not been medically cleared by the Lions Rugby Company medical team and will not join the Lions on tour until he is medically cleared.”
No further information on how long Whiteley might be out for and what the actual diagnosis is was forthcoming. CEO Rudolf Straeuli was also not available when contacted.
Whiteley struggled for months late last year to shake off a groin problem, which prevented him from captaining the Boks on more than the two occasions he did, and has now missed four Super Rugby matches, with the likelihood very good of him missing a few more.
How this setback – his not joining his team-mates on tour – impacts on the Lions will be known as early as Friday when the tourists clash with Australia’s leading team in Sydney.
Franco Mostert will again lead the side, from the flank position, in a match that will set the tone for the full trip. A quality Lions performance – after only arriving in Sydney late Wednesday in an attempt to beat jet-lag – will do Swys de Bruin and Co the world of good; more so now that Whiteley is sidelined.
But, if the Lions come undone – as has happened on a few occasions this season – then the tour could turn into a real tough one, with the other three matches being against the Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders.
The good news though is they’ve been happy, and successful, tourists in recent years and are also coming off a bye and a good win against the Stormers before that. However, De Bruin might have preferred the Lions played the very next week after knocking over the Stormers as a good number of days later they may now have lost their momentum and spirit.
In Whiteley’s absence young Hacjivah Dayimani gets a chance to show his potential on a first overseas trip with the Lions, while several other players will be hoping to find some form on tour. Here one thinks of Kwagga Smith, who gave up the chance to play for the Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games to focus on the 15s game, but has yet to hit top form, while wing Ruan Combrinck will hope to have a big tour in an effort to get into the Bok team in June.
Waratahs team: Bryce Hegarty, Alex Newsome, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (capt), Ned Hanigan , Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson. Replacements: High Roach, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Nick Palmer, Jed Holloway, Will Miller, Nick Phipps, Lalakai Foketi
Lions team: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe, Elton Jantjies, Dillon Smit, Hacjivah Dayimani, Franco Mostert (capt), Kwagga Smith, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Dylan Smith, Jacobie Adriaanse, Lourens Erasmus, Marnus Schoeman, Nic Groom, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sylvian Mahuza
Kickoff: 11.45am. Referee: Mike Fraser