Lions coach Johan Ackermann says he is ‘positive’ that captain Warren Whiteley will be able to feature in this Saturday’s final against the Hurricanes in Wellington. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Whiteley missed the Lions’ semi-final win over the Highlanders due to a calf injury, with the medical team opting to provide him with the best possible chance to recover in time for the title decider.
The Lions arrived in New Zealand late on Monday night, and then conducted a light ‘walk through’ training session on Tuesday, with Whiteley continuing to be carefully managed as he recovers from his calf niggle.
A final decision on the captain’s availability will be made after Thursday’s training session, but when talking to the South African media via teleconference on Tuesday, Ackermann suggested there were encouraging signs that he would be in selection contention.
‘Warren was cleared on Sunday. After our planning session this [Tuesday] afternoon, he ran a few paces under the supervision of our physio as part of his rehabilitation. He still has two days to prove his fitness … but we are positive he will make the match 23.’
After making the trip across to New Zealand, the Lions face the prospect of encountering wet and cold conditions this week, while the weather forecast suggests there is a strong possibility of rain on Saturday.
Ackermann said the Lions were confident in their ability to adjust their approach if need be, but reiterated that they wouldn’t completely shelve their ambitious style of play that has served them so well this season.
‘All season we’ve had a vision to play a certain brand of rugby and have certain standards. It’s still the aim to go out and play a decent game on Saturday. We’ve got that confidence, but the Hurricanes do have that all-round game and one of the best defences, so they will test us …
‘The challenge for us is to go out and play our game, but also to be able to adapt if need be depending on the weather. We can’t go into our shells, though, because it’s a once-off opportunity that we must enjoy.’
At the end of April, the Lions suffered a 50-17 thrashing at the hands of the Hurricanes, with the Kiwi side pouncing on uncharacteristic opposition errors in order to race into a 31-point lead that effectively sealed the result before the break.
While the Lions have made vast improvements since then, Ackermann acknowledged that there had been lessons to take out of that defeat.
‘That game actually provided us with a bit of a heads up in terms of the principles and small little things that we needed to work on such as our basics, set pieces and controlling the ball. Hopefully we’ll have a few different plans in place from that game, but we did look back to it and realised there were only a few small margins where we forced an offload or something that benefited them.
‘There are still ways to break down that rush defence of theirs, but it’s about the execution of individual basics that will be important. We can’t afford to lose patience with ball in hand and must protect possession in contact. Our decision-making must also be very good with regard to when to run, kick or throw that pass. I do believe if we start well and remain in the contest, then the decision-making will be better. But if you start poorly and go behind on the scoreboard, then you’re going to force passes and make mistakes.’
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