Lions flank Kwagga Smith says the team has enough leaders to make up for the loss of captain Warren Whiteley to injury.
The Lions are looking to bounce back from their stoppage-time defeat to the Stormers at Newlands last Saturday. As a further blow to the Joburg-based franchise, Whiteley, who was forced off just before half-time in Cape Town, has been ruled out for between six to eight weeks with a pectoral muscle tear.
Smith told the media on Tuesday that he is confident the Lions’ leadership group is strong enough to fill in for Whiteley.
‘I know Warren is out, but luckily we have a lot of leaders in the team. It isn’t just one guy. You don’t have to have the badge as captain to lead. For us, it is a good week of training. We are getting used to getting into form, having a Monday and Tuesday to train, so I think this week is a better buildup.
‘Warren is a big loss for us,’ Smith admitted. ‘But it isn’t too serious and he will be back. For us, it is just to keep on going. A lot of times Warren was out, Jaco Kriel took over. There are a lot of leaders and the character of the team is to go stronger and to play for Warren. I know it hurts his heart not to be on the field, but he is here and helping to contribute to the team.’
The game at Newlands was marked by controversy when Malcolm Marx thought he had won a late turnover penalty with the Lions still ahead. Referee Egon Seconds, who appeared to be unsighted, decided to penalise the visitors instead.
However, Smith said the Lions’ ill-discipline in the second half and inability to see the game out was what cost them, rather than a single call from the referee.
‘We are disappointed that we didn’t close the game down. The Stormers did well in the end, but we lacked discipline and gave away a lot of penalties in the second half. That cost us. It gave them momentum. We had the ball with a minute and 10 seconds left and could have kept it. We could have easily done it outside of our 22, so why could we not do it in our 22?
‘It was a bit of poor decision-making from all of us. It is something to learn from and take forward. Luckily it has happened early in the season so we can work on that and be better, so when there is another close game, we know what to do.
‘It is always frustrating when a call goes against you. But we never should have been in that situation. We should have been in our half playing our brand of rugby, scoring tries. We shouldn’t have been in that position to make one call that the ref might have misjudged and now it has cost us the game.’
The Bulls are also coming off a loss, having gone down 27-12 to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. But Smith does not expect the flight back from Argentina to affect the Bulls’ performance this weekend.
‘The Bulls are a good team and they are trying to play an expansive brand of rugby. It is not going to be easier for us. We know they have good players with a lot of skill.
‘We analysed them and know exactly what they want to do, but they have done the same. On the day, it is about being focused and sharp on the opportunities that you get. You might only get one opportunity, or 10, but you have to use every opportunity to the best of your ability.
‘Any team must know it is not easy to come to Ellis Park and do what you want to do. It is our home ground and we want to be at our best at home.’
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