Lions happy to have Swys back‚ even if they only just noticed he was gone
The Lions’ message was one of ‘business as usual’ when asked about returning coaches Swys de Bruin and Joey Mongalo on Tuesday.
De Bruin had been absent for the last fortnight after he was given time off to deal with stress-related matters‚ while Mongalo’s rather more sinister indecent assault conviction and related code of conduct hearing precluded his involvement over the last few weeks.
Some of the senior players played down their absence.
“Sometimes a bit of a change is good but at the same time you are missing two quality coaches. Maybe it was a little disruptive but I think the guys that stepped in did a fantastic job‚” explained scrumhalf Ross Cronjé.
“Obviously coach Swys was in contact all the time and coach Joey was sending messages through‚ so in some way they were still there.”
Perhaps mirroring the way he plays‚ lock Marvin Orie was a little more direct.
“I don’t think it disrupted the players that much‚ to be honest‚” said Orie. “It is what it is and everybody knows the situation. We just stuck to our guns.
“Luckily when all this happened we got our captain Warren [Whiteley] back and we had Malcolm [Marx]‚ Cyle [Brink]‚ Elton [Jantjies] and Lionel [Mapoe] so there were a lot of senior players with a lot of experience.
"I don’t think the focus changed much with all these things happening.
“Our job is to play rugby. We have a fantastic leadership group. I don’t think we were unsettled as players by this.”
Although De Bruin was unavailable for the tour match against the Chiefs‚ the Lions found inspiration in their regular captain Whiteley‚ who happened to return from injury that week.
His importance to the team rates alongside‚ if not higher‚ than the coach.
“Warren is a huge leader‚” Cronjé nodded. “One thing that people don’t notice is his workrate off the ball. The way he organises and his talking on the field. His leadership is incredible.
“That guy is one helluva rugby player. After a game I don’t know how he gets up the next morning with the amount of work that he gets through.
“You do miss that and we do have guys that can fill in but there is no fitter rugby player that I know of in this country.”
Whiteley will certainly be vital to the Lions’ cause when they take on the Waratahs on Saturday.
He is‚ however‚ doubtful for selection but he seemed to train without much discomfort on Tuesday.
Although it may seem imperceptible given their results‚ Cronjé feels the Lions took strides on tour.
“I thought the results didn’t show the progress we are making. Our game is coming together again‚ which is exciting and the boys are on the same page.
“Everybody knows what to do‚ where to be. Within the gameplan you are allowed freedom and the gameplan allows you to see where space is‚ where to beat your man and knowing that you are going to have support runners with you.
“That’s what we’ve been focused on.
“We went back to what works for us. We focus on what we do well instead of trying to change everything every week. We are trying to get a bit of consistency in the gameplan and keep things simple.
“I still believe when this team is on song we can beat the best no matter where we play.”
Cronjé admitted to being a little knackered on Tuesday and it has nothing to do with his recent travels.
“I didn’t have much sleep last night. My brain isn’t functioning properly‚” said Cronjé.
“The little one kept me up‚” he said about his baby daughter. “My wife is very happy‚” he said when asked about his presence back home following the team’s Australasian tour.