| Warren Whiteley: I’ll always want to put on my boots and play

Warren Whiteley and Julian Redelinghuys are part of the Lions' forwards coaching staff

Warren Whiteley and Julian Redelinghuys are part of the Lions’ forwards coaching staff

Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

  • Warren Whiteley is enjoying his new gig as the Lions’ lineout guru but admits he still gets a thrill seeing his team-mates run onto the field.
  • The 32-year-old, still struggling with a chronic knee problem, hasn’t officially retired yet and is rather taking a sabbatical of sorts by focusing on his coaching role.
  • He believes his transition from player to coach has been made easier by the inclusive culture at the franchise.

At the start of the year, Warren Whiteley admitted shortly before the start of the Super Rugby campaign that at some stage he’ll have to accept that he could never play rugby again.

The 32-year-old Lions legend and former Springbok skipper, enjoying his current role as the franchise’s lineout coach, has been struggling with a bone bruise in his knee for over a year now but hasn’t officially retired from the game yet.

Instead, Whiteley is taking a sabbatical of sorts in 2020 by focusing on his coaching before making a final call.

Holding off on that decision might be explained by the fact that his emotions are still stirred seeing his team-mates run out onto the field.

“I don’t think the transition from player to coach has always been easy,” Whiteley told a panel discussion in the latest instalment of the Lions and Wits Sport’s coaching webinar series.

“I still get a bit of a twitch when the guys take the field and I want to strap up and get on there. I don’t think that will ever go away. I’ll always get butterflies in the stomach at the thought of it. That’s just down to my passion for the game.”

Despite the disappointment of the chronic knee problem hampering his twilight – made all the more frustrating by his near spotless injury record for the majority of his career – Whiteley still cherishes carving out a fine reputation as a player.

“I was really fortunate to be able to build a career out of the sport.”

His exploits on the field also made him realise quite early that he wanted to make the jump to coach, an objective that was made far smoother by his inherent interest in analysis as well as former head coach Johan Ackermann’s empowerment.

“Coach Johan handed me the captaincy and that enabled me to analyse the opposition and make high-pressure decisions on the field. We were really fortunate to have a coaching group of Johan, Swys (de Bruin), JP (Ferreira) and Ivan (van Rooyen) that allowed us as a senior player group to feel part of the strategy going into the game,” said Whiteley.

“That era obviously started as coach-driven but as the season’s went by the setup became far more inclusive. We grew a fantastic group of seniors.”

The impact of Ackermann and co’s management style was apparent in the Lions producing no less than 16 newly capped Springboks in a five-year period.  

That is a tradition Whiteley wants to continue.

“Rugby is my absolute passion. I want to help players better themselves. While I was playing, I loved seeing the potential of players being realised. To see that happen before your eyes, especially if they become Springboks, is phenomenal,” he said.

“As a coach, that’s what drives me.”

What has he found the most challenging aspect of his new role?

“It’s probably been to be a bit tougher. As a coach, you have to be tough at times. Not that I wasn’t when I was captain, I was hard-nosed, especially when it comes to standards.

“I think captaincy helped with the transition but there is a difference.”

– Compiled by Heinz Schenk

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