Lions captain Warren Whiteley had to make some tough calls before reaching the point where he leads his side on Saturday in the Super Rugby final against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
While he had to overcome a shoulder injury after the June Tests against Ireland, he then suffered a calf injury after the Crusaders win in the quarterfinals, had to overcome a hijacking episode, while also waving good-bye to his Olympic dream with the SA Sevens squad.
“At the time I spoke about how difficult the decision was to say no to the Olympics, probably one of the most difficult decisions of my career,” said Whiteley.
“But also there was no guarantee of me going as I still I had to make the side and work my way into the squad,” he said. “But for me at the time I really wanted to stay and contribute as we’ve been working hard for three years and it’s been a goal of ours.”
Whiteley said at the time he made his decision to make himself unavailable for Sevens selection there also was no definite indication that the Lions would reach the Super Rugby final, but said Lions coach Johan Ackermann had been incredibly supportive.
“And while there were also no guarantees for the Lions, I followed my heart and my instincts, coach Ackers helped me a lot in that decision, so I’m just happy and greatful to be able to play this weekend. Coach basically told me there’s no wrong decision, that either way I wasn’t making the wrong decision that I just need to follow my heart and be happy with either decision, he backed me and took a lot of pressure on himself so it really helped a lot.”
And now the Lions stand on the verge of their single biggest moment in Super Rugby.
“Very happy to be back in the side, just greatful to get a chance and a lot of hard work with our medical staff and I owe a lot to them, but just looking forward to contribute for the team and to have the backing of the coach.
“I haven’t thought about the sacrifices that much, my biggest focus has been just to be ready for this game, didn’t really look back into the past and personally it was important to give myself the best possible chance to play in the final, so I haven’t really looked back, just feeling fortunate to be here. To have a shot and to contribute and I just want to do my job on the weekend.
“I just want to do my job, I don’t want to do anything different, just do what I’ve been doing the whole season. I really enjoy my leadership role and making calls on the field and then of course just doing my best from the position where I am, so it’s not a different mindset, everything is the same.
“There’s no difference between me and Jaco Kriel captaining the side, there’s honestly no disruptions, so it’s been a smooth transition for everybody and we have just enjoyed our time here and making the best of the opportunity.”