Lions a home for sevens hybrids

Warren Whiteley (Gallo Images)
Warren Whiteley (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - South African sevens stars who are eager for some 15-man rugby have seemingly found a home at the Golden Lions.

The mantra at the Lions at the last three years have been for players to ‘express themselves’ and has struck a chord with sevens players.

In last Saturday’s 29-19 win over Griquas, the Lions fielded four Blitzboks in their starting line-up with the quartet proving to be menacing with ball in hand.

The sevens proponents included captain Warren Whiteley, Sampie Mastriet, Mark Richards, and the doughty Kwagga Smith, while fullback Vainon Willis also featured for the SA Emerging Sevens team.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann said although the team did not actively recruit players from the reduced format, the sevens players did add a different dimension to the team.

“They definitely bring other qualities to the game, they understand space, they understand the off-load game, they know how to defend when they two to three guys in front of them,” Ackermann said.

“I am sure sevens is good for a player’s development, and I know your specialist sevens players will not be available but as long as you have guys that can successfully manoeuvre between the two codes it could be an asset to you.”

There could be a slight downside in having a sevens players in the squad with next year’s Rio Olympic Games possibly having an effect on the team’s Super Rugby ambitions.

Whiteley, who has been one of the most influential players in the Lions success over the last two years, has expressed his interest in going to the Games.

The talismanic loosie won gold with the Springbok Sevens at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and hoped to feature in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“It is something I want to do but my priorities are at the Lions, it will be difficult to do both (play Super Rugby and sevens) but I will talk to coach Neil Powell (Blitzboks coach),” Whiteley said.

“We are not sure how it will work because I will also play Super Rugby, so we will have to be clever about it.”

Whiteley said he could be faced with a difficult decision to decide between the two as he believed the Lions had the ability to feature in Super Rugby playoffs which would be close to the Olympics.

“I wouldn’t want to go and play sevens and leave these guys here if we do well, so it is a difficult one for me at the moment,” he said.


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