Whiteley 'grateful' to lead Lions in semis
Johannesburg - Lions captain Warren Whiteley cannot contain his excitement at the chance to lead his team into this year’s Super Rugby semi-finals against the Waratahs on Saturday.
The reason is simple - for the last two years Whiteley has been an integral part of the Lions set-up, inspirational in so many ways, but has been missing when the playoff rounds have come around through injury.
It has meant that Jaco Kriel led the side into the battlefields in 2016 and 2017 and Whiteley could only watch from the sidelines. And now that he is fit to play and champing at the bit to get on the field, Whiteley can’t wait for the moment he runs onto the Ellis Park pitch.
“I haven’t really thought about it (last year). I guess I’m really in the moment and focusing on just being here and being grateful to get this opportunity. Obviously playing at home and in any type of playoff game as well is key. We enjoy playing here and it is going to be 'lekker'. Just grateful to be able to play in the semi this year,” Whiteley told SuperSport.com.
“I really haven’t reflected this week. I haven’t at all even thought about it. I’ve just been really focused this week on the 'Tahs, looking at them, looking at their structures and their plays. Purely focused on this weekend.”
But Whiteley does admit that it was a tough pill to swallow two years in a row - to watch his team-mates go out and play when he couldn't join them.
“Jeepers it was tough, especially on the side of the field having to watch. It isn’t easy but that is sport and that is life. Jaco (Kriel) is missing out this year and geez, what a player he is. But it is tough, it isn’t easy but hopefully we can make it special for him as well. He has definitely left a legacy at this union. So has one or two other guys that are leaving.
“It is great for us to be in this playoff game, in the semi-final once again but obviously we want to produce the goods and give a great performance.”
The Lions will have to travel to Christchurch for a final if they win and the Crusaders win their home semi-final against the Hurricanes, meaning a possible repeat would be so much tougher in New Zealand. But Whiteley hasn’t even entertained such thoughts, knowing the team first need to negotiate a tough Waratahs side to book their spot. Then they can worry about travelling.
“No, we’re purely focused on the game. Obviously we will all watch the ruggas in the morning and we will know the result, whatever it is. In a final you give yourself the opportunity and we saw last year anything can happen. Obviously home advantage will play a role but anything can happen. You want to give yourself that shot. But we need to produce the goods this weekend, that will be the key.”
Whiteley says the recipe the Lions have followed in previous years is likely to stick once again this year when looking at the playoffs. Simple do everything the same as every week in the year and you will be fine. The secret to his side’s success, he believes, is consistency.
“In knockout games? Well, to not change. To stick to your processes and principles as far as everything is concerned. Your whole week, your preparation, your training sessions, the duration of your training sessions, your gym sessions, your recovery. I mean just keeping everything simple and obviously there are a lot of outside distractions, which there are. But it is just important to manage that and stay focused on the job at hand, which is to perform on the weekend.”
The Lions will name their squad for the semi-final on Thursday.
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