Whiteley says the Lions have to up the ante to remain relevant in Super Rugby
He has no doubt that they need to improve but don't expect the Lions to deviate from the high octane game that carried them to the last two Super Rugby finals.
Captain Warren Whiteley missed the business end of last year's march to the final when a tear in his pelvis brought an abrupt end to a season that promised so much.
Whiteley‚ who has recovered from his injuries‚ believes that the Lions simply have to up the ante to remain relevant this season.
“Every year you need to improve‚ that's a guarantee‚" said Whiteley.
"That's regardless who you are‚ where you finished the previous season.
"This competition is constantly evolving. Players and teams are more efficient‚ more professional.
“The quality and the standard is higher every year. Every team has to improve.
"For us it is really important to focus on the present and the now.
"We have had great success in the past but we are starting our processes again. This is a clean slate for us‚ we start from square one.
"It is a new year and a new competition in the mindset.”
Indeed‚ in some ways it is a new chapter for the Lions.
They have a new Super Rugby head coach in Swys de Bruin but it helps that the new man helped oversee the team's rags to riches transformation under previous coach Johan Ackermann.
“Coach Swys is not coach Akkies. You can never expect that‚” insisted Whiteley.
“He is such a unique man. He's a passionate man and I'm fortunate to have known him for a number of years.
"He's been with us from the start. There are things that have worked for us. We are not going to change a lot.
“There will be tweaks here and there‚ things that he's brought in. Not much. Our focus will really be on our fundamentals.
"That has been our focus point over the last few years. The majority of our systems and processes are the same and we are grateful for that.”
The Lions may have changes in their coaching set-up but it is continuity on the playing surface that will arguably be their biggest ally this season.
From the starting team that contested last year's Super Rugby final‚ only loose forward Ruan Ackermann is no longer with the franchise.
Of the players on the bench that day only Akker van der Merwe and Faf de Klerk are now playing elsewhere.
“There is a lot of continuity in the squad‚” Whiteley acknowledged.
“We have a couple of great youngsters in the group‚ which is fantastic to see. We have good young coaches coming in as well and that's great‚” he said of Joey Mongalo and Philip Lemmer.
“To replace guys like coach Akkies and JP (Ferreira) who was with the union for 10 years‚ doesn't just happen overnight. It takes a while but we also have great experience in the squad.”
Whiteley has recovered from serious injuries and it will be a huge relief to the Lions that he's back at the helm.
He cautions that he is fit enough to play but that he is some distance off the peak of his powers.
“It will be a slow process but the more I play the better I'll get.”
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