Cape Town – If a succession plan is yet to
be formulated for the Springbok captaincy, then expect it to at least not be
too far away.
In fractionally over a year’s time, the
2015 World Cup will be a thing of the past and South Africa will, in all
likelihood, have bade farewell to an era in which Jean de Villiers, particularly,
and Victor Matfield have been the central leadership figures.
De Villiers will 34 by the time that event
ends and Matfield an even more long-in-the-tooth 38, so their retirement -
certainly from international rugby - is strongly likely then.
As long as those two are injury-free and steering
things smoothly (De Villiers overall and Matfield in the pack) there should be
little need for alternative Bok leadership considerations until RWC 2015 has
run its course.
But there will be the inevitable changing
of the guard - both in captaincy and certain personnel - immediately after it
and the country will be seeking a fresh on-field figurehead.
Who it may be is not a question with
especially obvious answers yet, but it is increasingly my own belief that
Golden Lions skipper Warren Whiteley will be among those under consideration.
It may not be much immediate consolation to
Lions fans, following the agonisingly close defeat to Western Province in
Saturday’s high-quality Currie Cup final at Newlands, but if anything the
leadership stocks of their No 8 only rose in a national context after it.
The Lions certainly did not come second because
of any failings on the part of their captain: indeed, he was typically
full-blooded in personal performance terms and suitably animated in cajoling a
response from his dapper men – which undoubtedly came – after the hosts had
taken an early stranglehold on the scoreboard.
In a match that genuinely could have gone
either way and with the Lions pressing right to the death, the final will be
remembered, among other good reasons, for the composure and accuracy off the
kicking tee of WP’s Demetri Catrakilis and the untimely off-day in that respect
by the Lions’ normally trusty Marnitz Boshoff which was to prove pivotal.
You don’t suddenly hand out Springbok
captaincies for good grace in defeat, of course.
But just for the record, Whiteley showed
that in admirable bag-loads after a distinguished Newlands advertisement for
rugby, played in impeccable spirit.
As Wikus van Heerden, a former Bok loose
forward favourite and member of the last victorious Lions Currie Cup side in
2011, said in the SuperSport studio after Saturday’s nail-biter, the losing
captain’s televised post-game interview is one of the least enviable tasks in
Yet Whiteley managed to temporarily bury
his huge disappointment to deliver a refreshingly articulate, cliché-free
address, describing the great pleasure of just sampling a showpiece in one of
the world’s most time-honoured competitions while fulsomely crediting the
He has been Captain Courageous for much of
a fine campaign by the Lions, the glue binding together a largely unsung but
gutsy and vibrant bunch of players.
There are many rivers to cross before next
year’s World Cup, and just for one thing, Whiteley is merely one, at this
point, of the usual vast array of loose forwards in this country vying for just
three berths in the Bok XV.
He hasn’t even started a Test yet, having made
two appearances as a substitute during the Castle Rugby Championship a few
But the Durban-born, Glenwood High product
is also is a player on the up, and having turned 27 only last month, is one who
should have plenty of gas in the tank for another four-year cycle after the
next World Cup.
A few weeks before the latest Currie Cup
final, Whiteley was already getting significantly good reviews from people of
Matfield described him as a “great leader
and energetic player” who had lots of pace and “puts himself in good positions
as a ball carrier”.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has also lauded him
as a “natural No 8”.
And on that score, remember that even if
the mighty Duane Vermeulen is the deserved incumbent of that position in the
Test side, he also offers solid possibilities down the line as a rugged
Don’t get me wrong, there will other,
probably attractive Bok captaincy candidates for the post-2015 period and
Whiteley nailing down a regular spot is no fait accompli.
But even at this long-range point, I
wouldn’t be too hasty, if I were you, to bet against Warren Roger Whiteley
leading out his country from 2016 onward, and thus becoming the third
Transvaal/Golden Lions national captain of the post-isolation after a certain
Francois Pienaar, and a few years later Andre Vos.
Whiteley is not a follower, and he has the
sort of ambassadorial skills and respect from those around him that have marked
the De Villiers tenure as national leader.
Mark my words, there is something about
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing