Bok coach’s hazard reminder

2015-01-31 13:00
Willie le Roux (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - A critical element of his tight-forward plans for RWC 2015, plus his unpredictable backline talisman.

If you’d told Heyneke Meyer - presumably a long way from the untelevised encounter - before Friday’s Newlands friendly between the Stormers and Cheetahs that two players falling into those categories would pull up injured in it, the ever-animated Springbok head coach might have been excused for having kittens on the spot.

But that is precisely what occurred in the pre-season affair, won 39-31 by the hosts in an otherwise productive work-out for both teams, as Eben Etzebeth and Willie le Roux fell foul of the curse.

Oddly, the more alarming of the incidents, on initial viewing, appeared to affect fullback/wing magician Le Roux during the second half - and he had only got on the park off the bench for the start of it.

But with just seven minutes remaining, the IRB Player of the Year nominee for 2014 collapsed in a writhing heap after being tackled, clutching the area around his left ankle. To watching spectators on the fairly sparsely-populated Railway Stand, it wouldn’t have looked good at all.

But Le Roux is something of a miracle man and, true to reputation, it became apparent that he had clearly taken one of those “bangs” to a bone that cause only temporary discomfort; quick as a flash, he was back in the thick of things.

After a spot of attention from one of the Cheetahs’ medical staff, he rejoined an attack by the visitors within what seemed a minute, and provided the final pass, for good measure, in a try out wide.

Le Roux then saw out the remainder of the fixture, and looked in no further pain as the sides shook hands.

A verdict is awaited from the Stormers camp, however - a spokesperson told Sport24 it would in all likelihood be Monday - on scans to a chest complaint suffered by powerful lock Etzebeth, which forced him off in the 36th minute after a couple of minutes largely loitering in the backline following the mishap.

Remember that Etzebeth has something of a Super Rugby hoodoo, given two prior seasons of limited or no activity for his franchise in the competition.

He is also well used to long-term setback occurring in the pre-season phase, after badly injuring an ankle in the 2013 game against Boland at Cape Town Stadium; the equivalent fixture in 2015 takes place next weekend ahead of the Super Rugby derby opener against the Bulls in Pretoria.

The fact that Etzebeth was still seen pitch-side at the end of the Cheetahs run-out seemed a reasonable sign, although scans can spring surprises either way.

It certainly didn’t help that Argentinean international second-row colleague Manual Carizza had actually preceded the Bok in retreating to the sidelines on Friday night, courtesy of a shoulder knock.

The very fact that they had been paired in the starting XV a fortnight before the big Loftus date suggested strongly that they are - or perhaps now were? - the intended combo against the Bulls.

A bit of consolation for the Stormers was that even after the departure of their known hard man Etzebeth, they kept up a healthy theme of pack physicality and high work-rate, with their new recruit from the Pumas at tighthead prop, Vincent Koch, prominent at scrum-time and in open play.

They are also blessed with a pretty strong cupboard of lock depth, given that Ruan Botha is reportedly back in full training imminently - albeit that a start in Pretoria may be pushing it - and coach Allister Coetzee can still call on last year’s find Jean Kleyn, plus the versatile claims of men like tough-nosed Rynhardt Elstadt and Michael Rhodes.

Elstadt put in some big hits and surges in his role on Friday as open-side flank, although he retains a clumsy side in handling terms, and there is a case for arguing that a return to the No 4 shirt - he combined superbly there a few seasons back with Andries Bekker - is his best positional stationing.

On a brighter note for the Stormers, new captain Duane Vermeulen got through a busy 70 minutes unscathed against the Cheetahs, after confessing upon appointment at Hermanus a couple of weeks back that his deserved off-season had led to some inevitable stamina/fitness compromises.

Nevertheless, the injury hiccups experienced by the likes of Le Roux and Etzebeth on Friday served as sharp reminders to Bok mastermind Meyer that many months of attrition lie ahead before he will be aware which of his best troops are left in one piece for first the abbreviated Rugby Championship and then the British-staged World Cup ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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