With injured captain Warren Whiteley now part of the Lions planning corps for Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final showdown at Ellis Park against the Highlanders, captain Jaco Kriel should feel comfortable wearing the captain’s armband.
Kriel captained the team to an unbeaten run in the Currie Cup last year where centre Howard Mnisi, injured No 9 Ross Cronje and prop Julian Redelinghuys also played strong leadership roles.
“The Currie Cup helped me as a leader,” said Kriel.
“And it was the coach’s idea from the start in order to give Warren a bit of a break and gave me the experience as a captain. And it really made a difference because I’m much more calm and knowing what to expect even though all of us know it’s going to be a massive game this weekend.
“We still have to remain calm, play rugby and make good decisions, and if you don’t remain calm it could be a long day.”
Kriel said the job was not done, with 160 minutes standing between them and greatness.
“It’s been an amazing year for us but as a group we try not to put too much pressure on each other, just allow every player to express himself in his own unique way, try to keep the pressure outside of the union.
“It will always be an honour to lead the Lions team, but we are certainly going to miss Warren as he is such an inspirational leader, one of the greatest players, but I’m very happy for the role I’ve been handed for this weekend.”
Kriel said one of the reasons for their success was that every guy knows exactly what his role was.
“It’s still normal preparation and we haven’t changed anything. I really believe it’s making it so much easier for the players. I believe if they changed it this week or altered the preparations, the players would have been mentally in a different mindset, and with this group of players there’s always excitement no matter which week it is or who you play. Yes, we are excited but everything is very calm.
“We all would love to make predictions over the result, we can only do what’s in our hands and play our game, so it doesn’t help to change everything now and if we keep to our routines, the result would look after itself.”
Ackermann said Whiteley would either sit in the coaches box, the commentary box, next to the field or with his wife in the stands – it’s up to him.
“Unfortunately Warren tweaked a calf muscle in the one movement last weekend where we scored, so he didn’t win the race to recover in time and we couldn’t consider him.
“We won’t change anything because he is injured, that’s why we have the squad. We couldn’t have planned for it, but my message the whole year to the players was that if you are not starting it’s disappointing, but just make sure you are ready when a position opens up – and it shows one how quickly that opportunity opened up.”