Warren Whiteley should be regarded as the leading candidate to regain the Springbok captaincy ahead of the 2018 season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It came as no real surprise to see reports emerge over the weekend suggesting that Whiteley was set to become one of the first players to be awarded a national contract as new Bok coach Rassie Erasmus seeks to lock down his services in South Africa.
As it is, the appointment of Whiteley as the 58th Springbok captain proved to be an inspired selection last year. The highly popular Lions skipper was central to all that was good about the Boks during the successful Test series against France in June as he led the drive for the side to embrace a renewed, close-knit culture.
Unfortunately, a troublesome groin injury that was aggravated during that series robbed the Springboks of their talismanic captain for the remainder of the year, and there is no doubt that his presence was sorely missed as both a leader and player.
In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, Whiteley reveals the challenges experienced in recovering from that injury, which was initially expected to sideline the athletic No 8 for around six weeks, but eventually kept him out of action for six months.
‘I’ve been quite fortunate in my career that I haven’t had many serious injuries, and before this, the longest time I was out for was about 12 weeks. So it was a tremendous challenge, and watching from the sidelines is always difficult,’ he reflected.
‘However, I was inspired by a guy like [Lions teammate] Harold Vorster, who suffered a very serious knee injury a couple of years ago. I used to watch him every day working at his rehab, and then just as he came back, he injured his knee again. So he was practically out for two years in total.
‘Dylan Smith was another guy who suffered quite a serious shoulder injury, and just as he returned from a lengthy lay-off last year, he injured his shoulder again, and had to go for another operation.
‘So I just kept thinking during my injury that I really had nothing to moan about, and that I just needed to continue working at my rehab, and trust that it would come right with time.’
Such comments provide real insight into the character of a player who is commonly regarded in the Lions’ setup as the ultimate team man, and who has been instrumental in leading the side to back-to-back Super Rugby finals.
Towards the end of last year, Whiteley made a successful comeback from injury while playing for the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan, and has since made a seamless return to Super Rugby action with the Lions.
Recently, Erasmus was asked if he had given thought to who he might appoint as the Bok skipper, and understandably made mention of Whiteley along with familiar candidates such as Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth, while Duane Vermeulen is another strong contender.
However, Erasmus really shouldn’t have to look much further than Whiteley, who has all the credentials to once again successfully lead the Boks at the start of a new era.
‘I’ve always been a relationship-based sort of individual, and placed real value in building connections with different people from different backgrounds and with different opinions. I try to understand why people think or do things a certain way, and to try and put myself in their shoes,’ he told SA Rugby magazine when describing his leadership style.
‘The challenge is to know how to get the best out of that individual, but I just love to get to know people in that way. I’ve also been fortunate to play under some great leaders at the Lions like Cobus Grobbelaar and Josh Strauss, who were both very relaxed and laid-back guys.
‘Then at the Boks there was a captain like Jean de Villiers, who had this playful character, and could connect with various players from different backgrounds, but he also had that stern side to him when he needed to take action. But I just try to be myself, and to not worry about following a certain style or rulebook.’
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images