JOHANNESBURG – While Warren Whiteley will make his Super Rugby return this weekend against the Sharks in Durban, he has admitted he will only be back to his best in a few weeks’ time when his side play the Bulls in their final round-robin game of the season.
Whiteley has spent close to three months on the sidelines with a knee injury, but after playing 60 minutes in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge game against the Bulls on Sunday he is ready to return to the bigger and more important Super Rugby competition.
“It’s so nice to be back ... I miss it so much when I’m away from the guys and the action,” he said on Tuesday afternoon.
“Of course I was anxious ahead of the game on Sunday ... I think that is normal. It was back-to-back injuries and that first game back is always a tough one to get through. I thought it went well though and we won, which is awesome.”
The Lions handsomely beat the Bulls, but bigger challenges lie ahead for Whiteley and some of his teammates who have also been sidelined recently.
Cyle Brink, Lionel Mapoe, Ross Cronje and Courtnall Skosan are some of the Lions players who have struggled with injuries in recent months. And, the team, as a whole, will be keen to go one better than in 2016 and 2017 when they lost in the final.
Whiteley is hoping to hit peak form in two to three weeks’ time. “I’ll probably be at my best in three weeks’, around the time of the Bulls game. I’ll work hard to be there at the standard I set for myself.”
He also returns to action this weekend knowing veteran eighthman Duane Vermeulen enjoyed a super June Test series against England. He admitted it was tough to watch the Boks from the sidelines but welcomed the performance of Vermeulen, even though he knows he has to work a little harder now to win back his place in the Bok team.
“It’s always tough watching from the side. But it was also so nice to see the guys perform so well ... with a lot of the young guys coming through. It’s always a good thing when the Boks win, everyone is happy ... the whole country. I just want to get back there (for the Rugby Championship) and make a contribution.
“And, the competition at number eight is always nice. I have a good relationship with Duane ... he was playing some of his best rugby in 2014 when I made my debut, but we’re completely different players. All I can do going forward is look after myself and my own game. I’m not competing with anyone else. All I can do is be better than before and be deserving of a look.”
* Meanwhile, centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg is the latest player to leave the Lions. He has been released from his contract and will join the Sale Sharks with immediate effect. Other Lions players who have indicated they will leave the franchise at the end of the current season include Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert and Jaco Kriel. This follows the departure last year of Ruan Ackermann and Faf de Klerk.
There have also been strong rumours recently that Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe and Andries Coetzee could also be on their way out.
Whiteley said every man needs to look after his own future, but that he isn’t about to pack up and leave South Africa just yet.
“Everyone is at a different stage of their career. It’s a tough decision to make and everyone will have to make it at some stage. The fact is we’ve done well (at the Lions) to have stayed together for five years ... it is phenomenal; this group of players with the culture, environment, and so on. It’s always going to be a personal decision.
“For me I’d like to stay at this stage. Some guys are fortunate enough to have got a Bok contract, and that puts them in a stronger position to stay in SA. I’m fortunate.”
The Lions’ match against the Sharks on Saturday kicks off at 5pm.@jacq_west