JOHANNESBURG – The arrival in New Zealand of Warren Whiteley and the availability again of Kwagga Smith should boost the limping Lions ahead of their second tour match against the Chiefs in Hamilton this weekend.
Desperate to get their Super Rugby tour back on track following their disappointing showing against the Brumbies on Saturday (they lost 31-20 in Canberra), coach Swys de Bruin is almost certain to pick both men for this Friday’s match.
The Lions have been completely out-played in the breakdowns in recent weeks, with the likes of injured men, Whiteley, Smith and Cyle Brink, missing.
In that time De Bruin has been forced to pick locks such as Stephan Lewies and Ruan Vermaak in the back-row.
But with Brink already back in the selection mix after his seven months on the sidelines and Whiteley and Smith available from this week, De Bruin will be in a far happier place. Whiteley passed a fitness test last Friday after spending the last seven weeks on the sidelines with a chest injury, while Smith has been out of Super Rugby since round five.
Whiteley will also, in all likelihood, take over the leadership of the side, too, which would allow Malcolm Marx to focus solely on his play.
While there wasn’t much between the Lions and the Brumbies this weekend, the visitors missed too many tackles to be competitive and will need to improve drastically in this department if they’re to stay in touch with the ever-improving and dangerous Chiefs this week.
And, De Bruin will be just as keen to see his players show greater execution skills on attack as against the Brumbies the Lions enjoyed 54 percent of the possession but only scored three tries, to the home team’s five.
“Our defence is definitely a work on, but we’re also going to have to finish off our chances, like the Brumbies did,” said De Bruin after the defeat.
“I was happy with our attack, with the way we carried the ball, but there’s still lot of work for us to do.”
It would also have pleased De Bruin that wing Aphiwe Dyantyi was close to his best form again after a fairly disappointing Super Rugby campaign so far.
The Bok winger was a busy ball-carrier and looked for work across the field, and was rewarded with his first try of the campaign.
Following their defeat in Canberra, the Lions have slipped to fifth place in the SA Conference, having led the way just two weekends ago.
But after eight matches played they have 18 points from four wins, but the leading Bulls have only managed five wins for 23 points, so there’s not much separating the five teams in the conference.