Whiteley’s special day in ‘Big Smoke’

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

Cape Town - Warren Whiteley will break a 16-year drought when he leads the Springboks onto his home ground of Ellis Park in the third Test against France on Saturday (17:05).

He becomes the first Lions-based skipper of the national side to perform that honour at the famous stadium since June 2001, when Andre Vos, also from the No 8 berth, led the Boks out.

The opponents, coincidentally, were also France in the first of a two-Test series, the visitors captained by scrumhalf Fabien Galthie at the time.

With South Africa already holding an unassailable 2-0 lead in the 2017 hostilities, Whiteley is especially unlikely to see any sort of omen in the fact that the French beat the Boks 32-23 that day under “Avos”.

Besides, a week later the host nation bounced back to split the short series - in what would also be Vos’s last game as skipper before Bob Skinstad assumed the role - by winning 20-15 in Durban.

Like Whiteley held in esteem as a strong “people person”, Vos did keep a starting spot for several further Test matches after Skinstad took the reins, albeit having switched to flank.

Older Johannesburg-based fans are sure to be reminded too, as a particularly deafening roar greets Whiteley this weekend, of a couple of slightly more distant captains of the then-Transvaal who led the Boks either in the period immediately leading up to the key political transition in the country of 1990 (Jannie Breedt) or not too long afterwards (the particularly idolised 1995 World Cup winner Francois Pienaar).

It is doubtful whether Whiteley will ever emulate the iconic status commanded by Pienaar - desperately few would, considering the uniquely happy timing and tumultuous events of his international heyday.

But the current Bok captain - the 59th; Vos was 49th - is an inspiring presence in his own right and quite possibly enjoying his rugby, aged 29, more than at any other period in his first-class career.

Although Durban-born and educated at Glenwood, Whiteley has been on the books of the Lions at either Currie Cup or Super Rugby level since 2010 and his assured, astute leadership has played an invaluable role in their ascension in the last couple of years to genuine title-chasers in the latter competition.

Losing finalists to the Hurricanes in Wellington last season, the Lions are firmly in contention once more for the 2017 honours when Super Rugby resumes in just over a week.

But he has also very quickly made his mark on the Bok leadership since succeeding the internationally-retired Adriaan Strauss for the start of this year’s campaign against the French.

Whiteley was singled out for praise only a day or two back by powerful Bok wing of the past Ray Mordt, who felt he had been instrumental in the major turnaround displays evident so far at Loftus and then Kings Park.

“Warren is outstanding as captain and plays a very big role (in the resurgence) ... the jersey is treasured again and something to strive for,” said ex-Transvaal favourite Mordt.

The skipper will earn his 18th cap and 13th start when he runs onto Emirates Airline Park, surrounded in the starting XV by six Lions colleagues including debutant tighthead prop Ruan Dreyer, so “Lions fever” will be far from absent in the crowd.

Whiteley has represented the Boks as a rank-and-filer twice previously at the venue, albeit as a substitute each time.

He first wore green and gold at formerly-named Ellis Park in 2015, when he replaced injured Francois Louw at the start of the second half against New Zealand (a 27-20 loss), and then came on at a similar juncture, this time for a crocked Duane Vermeulen, against Ireland in the tense second Test last season.

The Boks were under the cosh at 19-3 down at the time, but a try by the rangy Whiteley in the 63rd minute aided a gritty fightback to seize the spoils 32-26.

Last Saturday’s highly satisfying team performance in prevailing 37-15 at Kings Park may also have been Whiteley’s best personal display yet in national colours, as he struck an excellent balance in loose-trio alliance with Siya Kolisi, who played out of his skin at open-side flank, and early-appearing substitute Jean-Luc du Preez who provided much-needed grunt and close-quarters industry at blindside.

The same three now begin the final Test on Saturday, and presumably in upbeat mental fettle ...


South Africa

15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds


15 Brice Dulin, 14 Nans Ducuing, 13 Damian Penaud, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot

Substitutes: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Vincent Rattez

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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