PE: Boks may have lock woes
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Johannesburg - Just how strongly does Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer
believe Franco van der Merwe is genuinely next in line for the No 5
That may be put to the test this week as South Africa
aim for a 3-0 series clean sweep over England in the last encounter in
Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
At the time of writing on Sunday, the
national camp still awaited the outcome of scans to the injured neck of
impressive Juandré Kruger, who left the field on the buggy at the start
of the final quarter during the Coca-Cola Park Test here after being
worryingly surrounded by medical personnel for several minutes.
Bulls player had again been prominent up to that point in only his
second Test match, and it was roughly when he and other forwards like
Willem Alberts (also injured; knee problem) and Bismarck and Jannie du
Plessis (substituted) left the fray that the Bok set-piece rather fell
apart in the gutsy England fightback before the tourists were subdued
With Andries Bekker, initially thought to have the inside
lane to inherit Victor Matfield’s long-time slot, already on the crocked
list, Springbok No 5 resources will look particularly thin if Kruger
cannot make the cut for the Friendly City.
The only remaining orthodox No 5 in Meyer’s broader squad, as things stand, is 29-year-old Lions stalwart Van der Merwe.
he is up to the rigours of Test rugby is a matter for conjecture, but
there is obviously only one emphatic way to find out ... and a
dead-rubber environment could be as good a place as any even if Meyer
rightly insists he will not be handing out caps willy-nilly.
another option available, should Kruger be ruled out, would be to
consider asking his similarly blossoming partner Eben Etzebeth to switch
from four to five; it is known that at his Stormers franchise the
coaches believe he can be educated to serve both roles if necessary.
such a scenario for the Boks, Flip van der Merwe, after successive
intrusions off the bench against England thus far, could fit into the No
4 jersey with some assuredness - he looked up for it in his near 20
minutes at Coca-Cola Park.
Of course the availability of Alberts
and fullback Pat Lambie (ankle) is also in doubt, which could mean
further alterations to the starting mix for the Eastern Cape fixture.
If the hugely in-form blindside flank fails to recover in time, the reserve cupboard at loose forward is perhaps less bare.
possibility would be to restore Marcell Coetzee to No 7, where he is
very much at home despite his good recent strides on the open side, and
play an orthodox fetcher and speed merchant like Keegan Daniel
(impressive as a substitute for two Tests now) or even Heinrich Brüssow,
a controversial earlier omission from Meyer’s squad plans.
if the coach wants to keep up his emphasis on bruising ball-carriers,
Coetzee could stay at No 6 and either of uncapped CJ Stander or Jacques
Potgieter (even granted that the latter will be low on game-time after a
lengthy layoff and perhaps not quite ready anyway) wear No 7.
for the fullback situation, Frans Steyn moved there from inside centre
fairly seamlessly when Lambie left the park in the 44th minute - as
Meyer had always said would be the case in an emergency.
powerful feeling will persist for many critics that the best Bok
midfield by a country mile right now is Steyn and captain Jean de
Villiers, a seasoned and strong combo and both in fine nick in that
In that case, the coach may have to go against
his instincts - which favour “physicality” across many positions - and
ask slippery Gio Aplon to assume the No 15 role if Lambie is indeed laid
low for the third Test.
Lots of observers would suggest that
there is no special risk involved anyway - for all his lack of bulk,
Aplon is a tigerish customer and could bamboozle the English defence
with his twinkle-toed running if the Boks get well onto the front foot
for generous periods of the game again.
Aside from any enforced
injury considerations, Meyer understandably will not be too inclined to
want to fiddle too much with his current brew, as he wants to secure the
“sweep” and also keep building some sort of continuity among his
But he also realises that some of his men have played a
lot of punishing rugby recently and are showing some signs of tiredness.
He reaffirmed at the press conference on Saturday night: “We
want to win every single Test match so I don’t want to make (selection)
cheap. But even before this game, there were one or two guys I wanted to
give chances to, to see what they can bring ... freshness, too. There
are plenty of fatigued guys out there who have been playing every single
“So we’ll have to assess a few players. Yet we also need
some continuity; we‘ve only been together as a group for two weeks, and I
want some continuity, especially going into the Castle Championship.”*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing