The Lions’ prayers were answered yesterday after influential captain Warren Whiteley was cleared to lead the side in tomorrow’s Super Rugby quarterfinal showdown against the Crusaders.
Coach Johann Ackermann was a much happier man when he announced his team and his demeanour was very different from the forlorn figure he cut when the Lions returned from Argentina last week.
Ackermann’s crestfallen attitude at the time was understandable, as he had to contend with a defeat in the Lions’ last pool stage match‚ and he also had to deal with a stomach bug that plagued no fewer than 11 of his players.
While a decision is still to be made on the readiness of Jaco van der Walt and Sylvian Mahuza‚ both of whom are options as backline cover‚ Ackermann named a strong side to take on the Crusaders.
Whitely’s return will have pleased the coach the most as he was expected to return to action only after six weeks following what appeared to be a serious shoulder injury while on international duty last month.
But the No 8 has made a speedy recovery in just four weeks.
“The good news is that Warren is cleared to play‚ therefore [he] will be the captain this weekend‚” Ackermann confirmed.
“It’s good to have him back. He put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes‚ medically‚ to get into the position that he is in. We are really happy to have him back in the side.
“We did not want to get everybody’s hopes up and have a lot of expectation out there. We always knew that if we pushed him hard medically‚ we could push it down to four weeks. The ideal time for the average guy would be six weeks.”
Whiteley confirmed that just two days after the devastating news emerged that he would be out for more than a month with the shoulder injury‚ he set his sights on returning to the Lions in the knockout stages of the competition.
The Lions captain was so set on helping the side to success in the competition that he turned down an opportunity to represent South Africa in the Sevens team at the Olympic Games in Brazil next month.
“This was my goal from the start. I was always eyeing this game. I was not telling everyone that‚ but it was what I was working towards‚” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a miracle that I’m here‚ not at all. The underlying factor is that the team was praying for me and the medical staff was great.
“I’m 100% ready to play and I’m excited.”