Smith loss no reason to panic
The news that Juan Smith ruled himself out of contention for the Rugby World Cup is a massive blow for the Springboks in their quest to retain the Webb Ellis Cup.
The Bloemfontein legend would not only have provided coach Peter de Villiers with the go-forward ball so needed in Test match rugby, but also some very influential leadership in a team already laden with experience.
I can clearly recall the incident where Smith snapped his Achilles in the opening weeks of Super Rugby while playing against the Bulls in Bloemfontein.
The respect he has among his peers was very obvious and when he left the field, the likes of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha almost walked him to the touchline to make sure he was okay.
Afterwards Matfield admitted that Smith was closer to the two “Blood Brothers” than most.
“Bakkies and I have played almost 70 Tests with Juan and probably not half of that with most of my Super Rugby team-mates at the Bulls. So he remains very a very close friend,” the Bulls lock said at the time.
Smith himself was working so, so hard to make the squad. He recently travelled up to Johannesburg where he spent three weeks running on a specially designed treadmill, working with Dr Jon Patricios. All of this of course was in vain.
His bravery to fight the pain barrier on a daily basis in order to serve his country is typical of the warrior he is.
His decision to pull out, rather than travel as a passenger is another indication of the man he is. Comments from bloggers on this site are suggesting/hoping/hinting that certain other players should also do the brave thing and retire before the team is announced, but I am afraid we are not going to see that, are we?
The big question is now who will replace Smith, but the answer is fairly obvious.
Schalk Burger should wear the No 7 jersey and with Heinrich Brüssow getting back to fitness as well, De Villiers has a very nice loose trio combination forced upon him.
Brüssow, Burger and Pierre Spies has a very nice ring to it, thank you, especially if you have Willem Alberts playing off the bench, who can cover 7 and 8. Danie Rossouw can now revert back to third lock, with the option of him playing in the loose forwards, should the need arise.
I was delighted to see Spies showcasing his immense talents against the Wallabies last weekend.
Suddenly we saw the best of the man with ball in hand, running menacingly and at great speed. He looked like the real deal and if he delivers again on the weekend, our World Cup opponents should be worried.
What I also liked was the way he was worked into space by the Boks. There was a clear plan to get the big man to run with the ball and to use his exceptional pace and athleticism in open spaces.
The Bulls used Spies as a premier ball carrier in Super Rugby and that worked against the former 100m athlete, especially as it was easy to mark him in that fashion.
Against the Wallabies, the Boks feinted a move to the openside, Bryan Habana came in off the wing and before you could blink, Spies was eating up the metres on the blindside.
Clearly a move perfected at the Royal Marang get-together?
The return of Brüssow is also crucial to the Boks.
“Heinz”, as he is known to his team-mates, was quite frustrated on the recent Tri-Nations tour as he didn't get the nod to take on his opponents, but he should feel much happier after coming through the Wallabies clash with flying colours.
Expect him to be even better against the All Blacks on Saturday.
As it is, the mentioned loose trio combination of Brüssow, Burger and Spies will probably not play together before the opening match of the World Cup against Wales in Wellington on September 11, but that shouldn't send out panic signals.
Individually, all three will have their own markers on their road to full fitness, but as a unit, I think they will go very well.
As will the Boks.
Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.
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