Rugby 30.7.2016 07:00 am

Lions sans Whiteley can still do it

Warren Whiteley of the Emirates Lions tackling Jean-Luc du Preez of the Cell C Sharks. Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images

Warren Whiteley of the Emirates Lions tackling Jean-Luc du Preez of the Cell C Sharks. Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images

The Lions are no strangers to setbacks.

This week they were struck a cruel blow when inspirational, live-wire skipper Warren Whiteley was ruled out of their Super Rugby home semifinal against the Highlanders due to a calf injury.

While the men in red have had to cope without their workhorse Springbok eighthman before this season, this has come at an awkward time when they need their big guns the most. But they have been through worse and managed to come out with their pride intact.

Just look at the 2013 season when they weren’t even playing Super Rugby after they were clumsily relegated from the competition at the expense of the Kings.

They lost key players, money and the fans were worried about what would happen to their beloved franchise.

Fast-forward to 2016, and they have a chance this afternoon to book a place in next weekend’s Super Rugby final.

Should they beat the Highlanders at home today and the Chiefs upstage the Hurricanes this morning, they could even host a home final, but that’s looking too far ahead. They have a mountain to climb this afternoon if they are to reach that final.

The Highlanders are the defending champions. They are one of only four teams to have beaten the Lions this season and they have plenty of quality players at their disposal.

It’s the franchise’s first Super Rugby semifinal since 2001, when the Cats went down to the Sharks in Durban, so how the players cope with the unfamiliar playoff pressure will also be key to determining the outcome of the game.

The Lions can also rely on a packed, vocal home crowd, while the Highlanders have endured an arduous travel itinerary since the international break. Win or lose today, it’s been a fairytale run for the Lions.

They are second on the overall standings, thanks to their brand of powerful, entertaining rugby. The Lions’ faithful will be looking for nothing less than a win today from their team. A place in the final – and maybe a home final – is at stake, after all.

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