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    Spare a thought for Warren Whiteley

    2017-08-03 18:50

    Lloyd Burnard - Johannesburg

    Johannesburg - Warren Whiteley has been at the heart of the Lions revolution over the past four Super Rugby seasons. 

    His presence has been a constant for coach Johan Ackermann, and he quickly built up a reputation for himself as one of the most influential leaders in South African rugby. 

    This year, he was named Allister Coetzee's Springbok captain. His first game as skipper, against France in Pretoria, came just a few days after his wife had given birth to the couple's first son.

    Back then, it seemed like 2017 couldn't get any better for the 29-year-old. It didn't. 

    The Boks won the series 3-0, but Whiteley missed the third and final Test at Ellis Park because of a groin strain. 

    The injury proved more serious than initially hoped, and now Whiteley will miss another massive clash at Ellis Park when the Lions host the Crusaders in Saturday's Super Rugby final. 

    It is a tough pill to swallow for a man who has been such a key figure in this incredible story, but Whiteley is now turning his attention to the Rugby Championship where he hopes to be fit to take on Argentina in the tournament opener on August 19. 

    On Thursday at Ellis Park, Ackermann paid tribute to Whiteley and a number of others who have played their part over the years, but who will not feature in the main event. 

    "I received a message from Willie Britz a couple of days ago wishing me well, and I said to him: 'Willie you're just as much a part of this journey as any of the players'," Ackermann said.

    Britz played for the Lions in 2013, when they were not a part of Super Rugby, and in 2014 before heading off to the Cheetahs.

    "Every player ... Schalk van der Merwe (2014 and 2015), Warwick Tecklenburg (2013-2016) ... they've all played their part.

    "Julian Redelinghuys (broken neck) still encourages the guys and he started the mentorship programme between the juniors and the seniors.

    "Warren Whietely has always been in the team and around the team.

    "Dylan Smith, Howard Mnisi ... they've done a lot of things behind the scenes.

    "It's a collective effort. There is nobody that hasn't played their part and that's what we always aim for, to have that serving mentality and culture. It's not just a rugby culture ... it's a Lions culture."

    In Whiteley's absence, Jaco Kriel has had to step up as a leader at the business end of the competition. 

    Always full of passion, the 27-year-old has had to endure a couple of serious scares in the play-offs when the Lions were nearly knocked out of the quarter-finals by the Sharks and then slipped to a 22-3 deficit against the Hurricanes in the semi-finals. 

    But, somehow, they found a way.

    "We came in at half time and coach just kept it calm. I didn't do a lot, so all credit must go to the players and the management, who said the right things at the right time," Kriel said of the turnaround in the semi-final.

    "I don't think I will ever fill his (Whiteley's) shoes. He's an amazing leader and an amazing person.

    "But being on the field is a different story ... you're not on your own. I've got all of these amazing players around me to keep the group calm. It's not a job I have to do; it's a job the whole team has to do."

    Kick-off on Saturday is at 16:00.

    Follow Sport24 journalist @LloydBurnard on Twitter...

    Teams:

    Lions

    15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen

    Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza

    Crusaders

    15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody

    Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge

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