Innovative Lions coping with injuries
INJURY UPDATE: The Lions received a timely boost with the return to fitness of three key players ahead of the final round of Super Rugby league action.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann, speaking to rugby365 ahead of their trip to Durban and an encounter with the Sharks on Saturday, confirmed that utility back Jaco van der Walt and Springbok centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg both came through the provincial challenge match at the weekend - when the Golden Lions lost 21-33 to Griquas.
On top of that hooker Robbie Coetzee has served his five-week ban for striking - the result of an incident in their 54-10 thrashing of the Southern Kings back in May.
Coetzee, who took exception to the constant niggling by Kings flank Chris Cloete, was shown a red card by referee Jaco Peyper in the 31st minute - after he lost control over his senses and struck his opponent in the head with his knee.
Janse van Rensburg suffered a knee injury in his team's impressive win against the Stormers at Newlands in April.
Van der Walt has been sidelined for a couple of months, after undergoing foot surgery.
The Lions are still missing a few key players - most notably regular captain Warren Whiteley, who is working his way back from having suffered a torn ligament in his pelvis ahead of the third and final Test against France last month.
There are also two long-term injuries in prop Dylan Smith and midfielder Howard Mnisi, who will not be available for the rest of the season.
Ackermann said they are coping with the loss of their inspirational leader by being innovative.
He had previously stated they remain "hopeful" Whiteley would be back sooner than the predicted six-to-eight-week lay-off.
"It will be touch-and-go [for him to return before the end of the season]," Ackermann told rugby365.
"It is five weeks to the [Super Rugby7] Final and he [Whiteley] is doing everything possible to recover. He has physio twice a day and is keeping up with the rehabilitation.
"Only time will tell.
"Obviously the team has to keep up their side - the further we progress in the competition the better the chance of Warren returning.
"However, at the moment we are planning that he is not available."
Ackermann said Whiteley's presence and leadership - despite not being able to train or play - still makes him a valuable asset.
"We will miss his workrate, which is sometimes double that of other players," the coach said, adding: "That said, it is a good challenge for Jaco Kriel, who has been great every time he has stepped in to lead the team in Warren's absence.
"Also, for the other loose forwards it is a challenge to put their hands up and show they can step up.
"Obviously there is his leadership and workrate, but his value in the line-outs means we have to make some adjustments.
"Against the Sunwolves Jaco Kriel and Kwagga [Albertus Smith] did a great job for us.
"The Sharks bring different challenges. They are good on the ball and strong at the breakdown."
The Lions mentor said combinations are not a big issue for them.
"It is more about what the individuals bring and how they perform.
"They all come a long way with the team and we have rotated them in during training and they are familiar with what we want to do.
"Also, do not underestimate Kwagga and Jaco Kriel. We have done a lot of work with them.
"They are perhaps not the tallest, but if two tall guys lift them and they are quick on the ground, you can also win your ball."
By Jan de Koning