Whiteley: More to come from Lions

    2015-06-09 14:03

    Johannesburg - Lions captain Warren Whiteley is confident that the Johannesburg-based union will continue to grow from strength to strength in future competitions.

    The Lions impressed many during their Super Rugby campaign in 2015.

    Despite their slow start to the season, losing their opening matches against the Hurricanes (22-8), Sharks (29-12) and Stormers (22-19), they went on to win nine of their following 12 fixtures. This included a successful overseas tour, which saw them beat the Blues (13-10), Rebels (20-16) and Reds (18-17) in Australasia.

    They were close to qualifying for the Super Rugby playoffs, but a 19-19 draw against the Stormers at Newlands last Saturday confirmed that they can only finish as high as seventh - one place short of making the wildcard quarter-finals (the Lions have a bye during the last league round this weekend).

    Despite the disappointment of missing out on a top-six finish, Whiteley believes this is only the start of their growth as a team.

    “This all started when Johan Ackermann took over as head coach and encouraged the players to play for each other and the jersey. He put the pride back into Lions rugby, which had a major influence on the team,” Whiteley told

    “We enjoyed a strong finish to Super Rugby last year, and we did well during this year’s tournament. This is all reward for the hard work we’ve put in to ensure the Lions excel as a unit… as a family.”

    Whiteley added that the Lions will be aiming to add to this momentum during this year’s Currie Cup and future Super Rugby competitions.

    “It’s important that each individual grows and matures together in this team. The players get to know each other’s strengths and we learn how to bring the best out of each other,” said Whiteley.

    “The Lions management have worked hard to put the necessary processes in place to ensure we remain a unit going forward. Most of the guys have signed on to stay with the Lions for the foreseeable future. To achieve success in rugby, you need to stick and commit to a group of players.”

    Whiteley also believes the support from the fans have had a major influence on the team.

    “There’s definitely notable growth in the crowds showing up at Ellis Park compared to previous seasons,” said Whiteley. “We know that winning rugby draws in the fans, but even when we struggled during the opening rounds, our supporters were still backing us. This meant a lot to the team, and encouraged every player to play for the jersey.”

    When speaking to other players in the Lions squad, they mention Whiteley’s captaincy as a major influence on and off the field.

    However, modestly, the 27-year-old thanked his team-mates for his growth as a leader.

    “I have to thank the guys around me for their support and assistance. They’ve made the job a whole lot easier for me,” explained Whiteley. “Around me, there are other leaders, who share the responsibility. Guys like Elton Jantjies, who has done really well since returning from Japan… Jaco Kriel and Franco Mostert have played out of their skins week in and week out… and Lionel Mapoe, who has been captain before, has really done well in the backline. These are just a few of the players who make a massive difference in their respective positions.”

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