Warren Whiteley in action. Picture: CHRISTIAAN KOTZE / AFP
Warren Whiteley in action. Picture: CHRISTIAAN KOTZE / AFP

The Lions will go into their crunch Super Rugby clash against the Sharks in Durban with a brittle spine.

Apart from the expected absence of regular captain Warren Whiteley due to bone bruising‚ the Lions will also be without talismanic hooker Malcolm Marx and the calming influence of scrumhalf Ross Cronjé.

Whiteley sits out for a second week after picking up his injury against the Waratahs‚ while Marx has to rest as prescribed by the Springbok player management plan. Cronjé has been ruled out due to an unspecified “small procedural operation” but will miss only one match.

Their absence leaves a huge void in the Lions’ ranks. The leadership in the group is likely to be put to the test. The captaincy now falls to loose forward Kwagga Smith who will again wear the No 8 jersey in Whiteley’s absence.

Marx’s place goes to Jan-Henning Campher‚ while Pieter Jansen comes onto the bench. It will be Campher’s first start since joining the Lions at the beginning of 2019.

Cronjé’s place goes to the experienced Nic Groom but the Lions do not have a recognised scrumhalf on the bench with Hacjivah Dayimani doubling up as potential forward and back.

Fullback Andries Coetzee can play scrumhalf if required.

The Lions announced  on Thursday that prop Dylan Smith and flanker Vincent Tshituka have both committed to remain with the franchise until 2021.

The Sharks‚ meanwhile‚ have slightly tweaked their pack for the clash.

Daniel du Preez joins his twin brother Jean-Luc in the backrow‚ while Philip van der Walt reverts to flank. Mzamo Majola comes in for Thomas du Toit at loosehead‚ while Ruben van Heerden is in the second row with Hyron Andrews dropping to the bench.

The Sharks are a little thin at hooker with injuries precluding Akker van der Merwe and Craig Burden’s involvement‚ which means Kerron van Vuuren starts while Dylan Richardson is likely to come from the bench.

In the backline centre Andre Esterhuizen returns to the starting team.

Teams

Sharks: Aphelele Fassi; Sbu Nkosi‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ Andre Esterhuizen‚ Makazole Mapimpi; Curwin Bosch‚ Louis Schreuder (captain); Daniel du Preez‚ Jean-Luc du Preez‚ Philip van der Walt; Ruan Botha‚ Ruben van Heerden; Coenie Oosthuizen‚ Kerron van Vuuren‚ Mzamo Majola. Substitutes: Dylan Richardson‚ Juan Schoeman‚ John-Hubert Meyer‚ Hyron Andrews‚ Jacques Vermeulen; Cameron Wright‚ Robert du Preez‚ Kobus van Wyk

Lions:  Andries Coetzee; Courtnall Skosan‚ Lionel Mapoe‚ Harold Vorster‚ Aphiwe Dyantyi; Elton Jantjies‚ Nic Groom; Kwagga Smith (captain)‚ Cyle Brink‚ Marnus Schoeman; Marvin Orie‚ Stephan Lewies; Johannes Jonker‚ Jan-Henning Campher‚ Dylan Smith. Substitutes: Pieter Jansen‚ Sti Sithole‚ Carlu Sadie‚ Reinhard Nothnagel‚ Vincent Tshituka‚ Hacjivah Dayimani‚ Shaun Reynolds‚ Tyrone Green.