It has been a big week for newly installed Springbok captain Warren Whiteley. On Monday, his wife gave birth to their second child and first son Samuel, and today he’ll be leading out the national team for the first time against France at Loftus Versfeld in what will be his 16th test.
He’s one of the least experienced test captains since readmission and the first from the Lions since Old Selbornian Andre Vos at the turn of the millennium. But Whiteley is not overawed by the sense of occasion of being the 58th man to lead the Springboks.
But things could not have been harder with the Boks under pressure to turn around their miserable 2016 with a win against Guy Noves’s side.
The way they started the season last year with a loss to Ireland in the first test of the year was a bad foretaste of what was to come even though they went on to win the series.
Whiteley was part of the side that faltered at Newlands, but said the team was in a far better space than they had been last year.
“It’s a massive opportunity for us. We’ve had sufficient time to prepare and we’ve had some great training camps during the Super Rugby tournament. It’s definitely benefited us and we also had a great week in Plettenberg Bay where we not only laid a foundation in terms of how we want to play, but in terms of the team culture. There’s a lot of excitement for what is to come and it’s a case of putting things into practice and that will be seen in the match,” Whiteley said.
“I probably couldn’t have dreamed of a more exciting week and everything has gone really well.
“It’s been easier than I expected and I’ve had a lot of support here and at home. My family has been phenomenal for me. I could never have scripted this week in my life.
“It started off amazingly because having children is the best thing in life and I feel the cherry on top of the cake is about to come.”
His successful leadership at the Lions has primed Whiteley for what will be one of the toughest challenges of his career.
However, the challenge of leading an inexperienced side with a lot to play for is a great one, especially one that carries four on-field debutants.
What could help Whiteley is that three are from the Lions where a culture of success, has been cultivated.
“As a player you visualise a lot, but I haven’t put much thought into the fact that this will be my first test as captain. I’ll approach it as a player because I know what I need to do and I know the decisions that will come my way that I have to make.
“It doesn’t intimidate me in the way that it’s a massive new thing.
“It will be because it’s a new environment but I’m excited by it,” he said.
“We have looked at them and we know they have a few key role players. They’ll stick to what worked for them in the Six Nations and they’ve got one of the best set-pieces in the world.”