Whiteley to 'lead' from the sideline
REACTION: He may not be wearing the captain's armband, but Warren Whiteley will still play a leading role for the Lions.
Whiteley, the Lions' regular captain, was ruled out of his team's Super Rugby semifinal clash against the Highlanders at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday - after he was unable to recover in time from a calf injury which he sustained against the Crusaders last weekend.
While Jaco Kriel will lead the team onto the field, Whiteley will still have a massive role to play.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann said Whiteley will be providing his teammates with some handy advice and help them during the build-up to Saturday's decider.
"Unfortunately he tweaked a calf muscle in a movement where we scored [in the 42-25 win over the Crusaders] and he didn't recover in time," Ackermann said.
Whiteley was not the only casualty during last weekend's quarterfinal victory - with replacement scrum-half Ross Cronje also being ruled out of the clash with the Highlanders, after injuring his ankle.
The void left by Whiteley and Cronje in the matchday squad sees Ruan Ackermann selected to start at No.8, while Dillon Smit provides scrumhalf cover off the replacement bench.
Steph de Witt comes onto the bench to take Ackermann's place.
Ackermann was full of praise for the entire squad and pointed out that each and every player needs to contribute to the team whenever they are given the opportunity.
"That's why we have a squad system. We have said the whole year that the message to the players was: 'If you are not starting or in the matchday 23, make sure you arrive when that opportunity opens up.
"And this shows you how quickly that opportunity opened up," explained Ackermann.
Ackermann further added that Whiteley is an inspiration to the team and his leadership skills will contribute to getting his team ready for a Super Rugby home semifinal in front of a packed Ellis Park Stadium on Saturday.
"Myself and Warren will have a discussion to see if we will use him maybe next to the field or will we use him in the coaches box. Maybe we will just let him sit with his wife and watch the game.
"However, today [Thursday] and tomorrow [Friday] he is there to give advice.
"We had a video session this [Thursday] morning and he made quality comments on the stuff we went through, so that's what you expect from your leaders," Ackermann added.
Kriel said it is an honour for him to be leading the Lions, but added that Whiteley's leadership on the field will be missed.
"He is such an inspirational leader and a courageous player, but I must say that I am very happy for the role that I have this weekend."
By Josh Isaacson