Whiteley led Lions by example

    2014-07-14 17:30

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Relatively unsung Lions captain Warren Whiteley has emerged as possibly the most industrious South African forward statistically after completion of Super Rugby 2014 ordinary season.

    The full-blooded, mobile No 8 led from the front once again as the Johannesburg franchise ended their praiseworthy first season back in the big time after a year’s gap with a spectacular 60-25 crushing of domestic rivals the Cheetahs at Ellis Park on Saturday.

    It was the seventh victory of the campaign for the Lions – more than some critics had predicted at the outset – and ensured they ended 12th overall and above the Free Staters in the SA conference.

    There has been rightful praise both for the captaincy of Durban-born Whiteley, 26, and coaching of former Springbok second-row hard man Johan Ackermann.

    As much as anything, both ooze passion and pure enjoyment of their responsibilities from every pore, something that appears to have rubbed off throughout the pretty humble Lions ranks.

    Following the completion of the conference campaign, Whiteley stands tall in two statistical categories: tackles and lineouts.

    South African names are conspicuously absent this year from the “top 10s” in the categories for most ball-carries, clean breaks and defenders beaten, but the Lions man redresses the balance quite nicely in the two prior-mentioned departments.

    Whiteley is second only to Force leadership and loose forward counterpart Matt Hodgson (easy winner with 234) for tackles completed (181).

    That tally has him level-pegging with Highlanders No 8 Nasi Manu, although the Dunedin-based player gets the opportunity to move clear when his team tackles the Sharks at Kings Park on Saturday in the first round of knockout action.

    Again, no other South Africans crack the top 10 for tackles.

    But Whiteley’s work-rate doesn’t end there: he also finds himself in eighth across the competition for lineouts secured (49).

    That is one area where traditionally South African forwards excel, and this year is no different.

    The Sharks’lanky Stephan Lewies, a freshly-capped Springbok, tops the pile with 77 grabs, and can add to that against the Highlanders, whilst Bulls veteran and established aerial maestro Victor Matfield currently holds second spot on 73; his Super Rugby year is over.

    Stormers utility forward Michael Rhodes, who has been standing in capably for injured Eben Etzebeth as No 4 lock of late, is fifth with 58 takes.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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