Warren Whiteley has downplayed the suggestion that it was simply the impact of several Lions players that inspired the Boks to Saturday's victory over Ireland, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Port Elizabeth.
During an impressive second-half performance that saw the Boks come back from trailing 19-3 and then 26-10, Lions star Ruan Combrinck produced a Man of the Match cameo, which included a superb try that signalled the start of the Springboks’ revival.
Whiteley also made an immense impact off the bench and finished off another important try, while fellow Lions teammates Julian Redelinghuys and Franco Mostert added key contributions during the latter stages of the clash.
The Springboks’ high-intensity, ball-in-hand approach in the second half has also drawn parallels with the style of rugby that the Lions have impressively executed in Super Rugby.
However, Whiteley laughed off any talk that the Lions players should take credit for the Springboks’ comeback victory.
‘In no way is this a Lions team, this is the national side and collectively we’re working towards a certain game plan and style of rugby. It’s not going to happen in a week or two of training, it’s going to take time. The players are working extremely hard. Even in the week leading up to the first match, we put in so much hard work, and that’s why the result was so disappointing.
‘But that’s also why it’s so pleasing to see the character that enabled us to come back and get the win [at Ellis Park], and to see that slowly but surely we are getting into a rhythm and starting to feed off each other. It’s about learning to play with each other and what makes us tick as a unit,’ he added.
Whiteley admitted the joy of victory had also dulled the pain of a shoulder injury he sustained against Ireland, and which will be further assessed on Monday before a decision is taken on the availability of the athletic No 8.
Should Whiteley prove his fitness, he could well start in place of Duane Vermeulen, who is battling with an elbow injury and hasn’t quite found his best form since rejoining the Boks.
Whiteley said Saturday’s win will have added to the Boks’ belief and self-confidence ahead of this weekend’s third and deciding Test in Port Elizabeth.
‘We saw in the second half that when we started getting quick ball and hitting the advantage line, we were able to create space out wide. That’s where we capitalised, with Ruan Combrinck getting some space and scoring on the wing, while Damian [de Allende] ran through the middle. If we can keep that width, the holes will open up in the middle and we can earn the right to go wide. That timing and decision-making was a lot better in the second half.
‘Ireland were just tactically better in the first half, they kicked smartly and put up a number of contestable kicks where they were able to create turnovers and put us under lots of scoreboard pressure. They deserve a lot of credit, but I’m just proud of our character to come back and win.’