Injury brought his playing career to a halt; now the coronavirus has done the same to his coaching ambitions.
JOHANNESBURG – A serious knee injury a year ago brought his playing career to a crashing halt and now the outbreak of the coronavirus has stalled Warren Whiteley’s latest calling: coaching.
It’s as if the former Springbok captain and inspirational leader of the Lions can’t catch a break.
Just when Whiteley had settled into his new role as lineout specialist for the Lions in this year’s Super Rugby competition, the season was suspended after eight rounds because of the spread of the coronavirus. Whiteley’s career is now, for the second time in two years, at a crossroads.
Super Rugby has been indefinitely suspended and no one knows when, or if, it will resume this year. Where 2019 brought anger and frustration – mostly at missing out on a chance to go to the World Cup – this year has brought another challenge: trying to get the Lions firing in the lineouts and winning on a regular basis.
Also, after taking his first few proper steps in the world of coaching, it’s now back to square one virtually for the former Lions No 8.
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Earlier this year when it was confirmed that Whiteley would take charge of the Lions’ lineout in Super Rugby he said: “Of course it’s frustrating (that I can’t play), but if the injury doesn’t heal then I can confidently say I did everything (to get better). And, at the same time I would have developed as a coach and given myself a running start into the next chapter of my life.”
Now that, too, isn’t happening. His “start” has turned into “stop”. And he admitted recently in an interview with supersport.com that the break in Super Rugby had given him (and his fellow Lions coaches) an opportunity to reflect on their (disappointing) campaign this year.
And, knowing Whiteley, he certainly isn’t sitting idle in this time of staying home and self-isolation. Like most coaches and rugby aficionados, he has no doubt spent plenty of time viewing the Lions’ matches this year – and will probably do so again, and again, in the weeks that lie ahead. Whiteley is exactly what some people like to call a student of the game – someone who never stops reading about the game or watching clips, to learn and grow. And he has admitted as much. “I decided to be pro-active (when the injury stopped me from playing), to use the time to grow and develop as a coach,” he said before the start of this year’s Super Rugby season.
Whiteley started “coaching” during the latter stages of last year’s Super Rugby campaign when he was ruled out of playing because of the knee injury and he continued to work with the Lions’ forwards in the Currie Cup. This year he was given a more specific role – that of lineout boss. He would also have been a sounding board for new head coach Ivan van Rooyen, who only took charge of the team this year, and provided input from a “players perspective” having captained and played for the team as recently as the start of 2019.
At just 32 though Whiteley may not be done with playing just yet – and the outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent suspension of all sport, might just work in his favour.
By having so much “off time” and being nowhere near a rugby field, Whiteley might just heal sufficiently enough to perhaps make a return to the game next season. He said earlier this year that, more than anything, his knee needed time to heal – which he now has.
“No amount of rehab work or strength training will help it it really is a thing that only time will heal,” Whiteley said.