Johannesburg - While he has to be credited for much of Saturday’s Springbok revival and comeback to shock the Irish, Warren Whiteley has a simple message to fans who are crowing about the victory - don’t make this about the Lions.
According to SuperSport, to be fair it is easy to give all the credit to the introduction of Whiteley and Ruan Combrinck to the team, and later arrival of Franco Mostert as the Springboks resurrected themselves from a shocking half of rugby to storm back and win the test, but while these players provided the spark that was sorely missing to the Bok flame, it is overly simplistic to give them all the credit.
The introduction of the Lions players, coupled with altitude and a general waking up in the rest of the side gelled all together to lift the Boks while the Irish wained. And the swing in momentum was the perfect foil for the victory that ensued.
Whiteley, who has to overcome a shoulder injury this week in Port Elizabeth, should be a strong contender to start the game, especially after his performance and considering Duane Vermeulen’s elbow injury on Saturday.
And the Lions leader says while its nice people are crediting the Lions players with inspiring the Boks, this isn’t the right way to look at it.
“In no way is this a Lions team, this is a national side,” Whiteley says.
“And collectively we are working towards a game plan and a style of rugby. It isn’t going to happen in a week or two of training. It will take time and I believe the players have been working extremely hard.
“Even the week before when we lost, we put in so much and that was a tough week for us. That is why it was so disappointing for all of us, in the build-up, we trained extremely hard, put in a lot of effort and I’m extremely proud to see just slowly but surely guys getting into the rhythm and starting to learn each other.
“We’ve only been together for two or three weeks, so we’re slowly starting to feed off each other. This is only my fifth tests, so learning to play with guys like Damian, scrumming behind Pieter-Steph. These are guys I haven’t played much rugby with and it is such a privilege to play with these guys. We’re slowly learning to play with them.”
Whiteley acknowledges it was a massive victory, but is already thinking of next week rather than dwelling on the happiness of Saturday night.
“It is definitely massive but let’s be honest, next week is the big challenge,” he adds.
“If you want the cherry on top, that will be next week in PE. This performance will count for nothing if we don’t perform next week. Next week will be a crunch game.”
While the Lions have received all of the praise in the post match celebrations, Whiteley points to the bench and their impact, as well as Allister Coetzee’s instruction to lift the tempo as the key figures. That, he believes, saw Ireland stumble, and in the process the momentum started to swing.
“I wouldn’t say emotions were sky high, we definitely felt a momentum swing,” he explains.
“We felt we gave ourselves a chance. We started getting quick ball and started getting over the advantage line and by doing that we could create space out wide. That is how we capitalised, we saw guys like Ruan Combrinck scoring our wide, getting some space there, Damian scoring through the middle.
“If we can keep that width, we can earn the right to go wide. Our timing was better in that second half, we earned our right and we managed to exploit those spaces and Ireland were just tactically better in that first half, they kicked smartly, tactically very well – contestable kicks and managed to get a lot of turnovers with those kicks.
“They kept us under pressure obviously with those three pointers and kept the scoreboard ticking 19-3. They also deserve a lot of credit, they did really well but we’re proud of the character and resilience of the group.”
Whiteley adds that the win will mean a lot to a group of players that finally saw some reward after 20 days together.
“It means a lot. It isn’t easy after last week, we were extremely disappointed with ourselves and our performance. To show that character in the second half and to come back after that is definitely a confidence booster for us and a massive improvement from last week’s performance. We can definitely build on that.”
The Boks will know they won’t have altitude on their side this weekend in Port Elizabeth and will need to use their new-found confidence in the right way. Tactically – bar 25 minutes – in two games they have been poor and second to Ireland in this test series.
If they are to drive the point home and win the series, they will need to take those last 25 minutes and turn them into 80.
Picking a player like Whiteley to start certainly won’t hurt.
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