Lions need Whiteley to roar

Warren Whiteley has the experience and ability to inspire the Golden Lions to a historic Currie Cup title in Saturday’s final at Ellis Park, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

It’s been nearly a decade since the Sharks team of 1996 went through an entire season unbeaten, but the Lions now stand on the cusp of achieving such success.

Johan Ackermann’s men have been simply sublime throughout the campaign, playing with flair and freedom on their way to racking up an incredible total of 430 points during the league stage, while scoring 52 tries.

Over an undefeated season, they’ve hammered Western Province 62-32 and the Free State Cheetahs 73-31. Those sort of winning margins against top teams have made some statement.

And yet, almost of out of nowhere, there were signs of fallibility last weekend, with the Cheetahs coming very close to sneaking a semi-final upset in Johannesburg.

Ultimately, the Lions withstood that test of character, and with captain Jaco Kriel once again proving to be a talismanic figure, they most deservedly booked their place in the final.

However, that scare served as a timely reminder that nothing can be taken for granted, and it’s the sort of point that Kriel and a senior player such as Whiteley will be driving home.

Whiteley has had to overcome the disappointment this season of missing out on Bok World Cup selection, but his availability has served as a significant boost for the Lions. The No 8 boasts the sort of work rate and athleticism that adds an extra dimension to the Lions’ dynamic back row.

Kriel has been an absolute revelation, making a massive claim for higher honours, while sevens star Kwagga Smith comes in to add extra intensity to the Lions’ loose trio for Saturday’s final.

With a formidable tight five, mobile loose trio, experienced halfback pairing and a backline with the freedom to express themselves, the Lions are an incredibly well-rounded side.

Ackermann has said they won’t move away from their natural attacking instincts in Saturday’s final, but he’ll also be aware that they can’t afford to play it too fast and loose against a Province side that has counter-attacking dangermen in Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla.

Province will look to create space for those sort of players to be able to make an impact, but there’s no doubt it’s on defence that the visitors will need to be at their absolute best if they are to somehow keep the hosts at bay.

The Lions’ unbeaten progression to the final has been a complete team effort, but in Whiteley, they have a mature and level-headed player who could make all the difference.

389 – Minutes played this season
138 – Metres run
59 – Tackles made
23 – Carries

Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Steph de Witt, 20 Jaco van der Walt, 21 Stokkies Hanekom, 22 Sampie Mastriet.

Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c) 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Huw Jones.

Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Jason Jaftha
TMO: Marius Jonker

Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

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Craig Lewis