JOHANNESBURG – Elton Jantjies, Marvin Orie and Kwagga Smith are the favourites to take over the Lions captaincy from the injured Warren Whiteley.
A fit and healthy Ross Cronje though could also come into the equation should he return to action this week after spending six months on the sidelines with the same type of injury picked up by Whiteley on Saturday.
The first choice Lions captain and Springbok loose-forward cried off just before half-time in his team’s Super Rugby match against the Stormers at Newlands with what would later be diagnosed as a pectoral injury.
The injury could force Whiteley to the sidelines for some time, and forcing coach Swys de Bruin to find a new team leader after just two rounds of the Super Rugby competition while he’ll also have to rethink the make-up of his back-row combination.
Jantjies is the official vice-captain of the Lions and should be the man to take up the reins, but De Bruin may feel he shouldn’t burden his key decision-maker with more responsibility.
Also, with the No 10 a virtual certainty for the Bok side that will go to the World Cup later this season, should he stay fit, Jantjies is unlikely to play all the Lions’ games in the Super Rugby competition as managing the flyhalf’s game-time through the year will be a top priority.
Lock Orie is a key leader in the pack and could be the man De Bruin leans on now, while flank Smith has also taking charge of the Lions before. Cronje though has captained the Lions most often in Whiteley’s absence in the past and he could come straight back into the team this week and take over the captaincy.
And how the Lions need to be led by a seasoned campaigner this week as they prepare to bounce back when the Bulls visit Ellis Park on Saturday.
“Warren’s injury doesn’t look good,” lamented De Bruin after Saturday’s 19-17 loss suffered at Newlands against the Stormers.
“We’ll continue to hope and pray he’ll be Okay. He’s an unbelievable person and leader and was in control of the team until he went off. His departure hit us hard, but I’m also proud of how the other leaders, like Elton and Kwagga, stepped up.”
The Lions controlled almost all departments of the match against the Capetonians and led throughout the contest, just for replacement scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies to score a late try which was converted by SP Marais to secure the Stormers a crucial win.
“I knew the Stormers would bounce back,” said De Bruin. “The result of the previous week (when the Stormers lost 40-3 to the Bulls at Loftus) was a once-off.
“That said, we could have and should have closed out the game at the end. We should have defended better and kept them out. But congrats to the Stormers and to Fleckie (coach Robbie Fleck); they fought until the 80th minute and there was lots of pressure on them.”
The Lions will know today for how long Whiteley will be sidelined.