Pretoria - The loss of Victor Matfield for next weekend’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship opener against Argentina might be seen as a massive blow for the Springboks, but it is also another opportunity for coach Heyneke Meyer to increase the depth in the squad.
According to the supersport.com website, Meyer must be wondering just when he will have his best team available after injuries and overseas club commitments have robbed him of at least a third of his team he would have liked to have picked, but now with Matfield injuring himself at Monday’s practice, the focus will be on young Lood de Jager, who is set to take over Matfield’s spot.
Meyer admitted on Monday he was “really concerned” about the lack of a back-up lock to Matfield at the moment, and with Pieter-Steph du Toit and Flip van der Merwe both nursing long term injuries, the Boks have little cover in this department.
It isn’t only in the lineouts – a stat that Matfield dominates in the Southern Hemisphere – where the team has been hit. In terms of leadership and the mentor role that Matfield was playing with younger up and coming locks, Meyer was hoping this would be a continuous process that would take the team through to the World Cup.
Matfield sat on the sidelines for most of Monday’s training session with an ice-pack on his knee, looking forlorn, and while initial diagnosis was that it wasn’t expected to be serious, the Bok lock still felt discomfort overnight and was sent for a scan.
Matfield was diagnosed with “a small tear in a cartilage after being sent for scans today (Tuesday) morning after feeling some discomfort in his knee at training on Monday,” a team statement said.
“Victor’s injury will initially be treated conservatively and a decision on his further participation in the competition will be made during the course of next week,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts.
On Monday however, Meyer did say that while Matfield was still first choice to take Matfield’s place, it was young Lood de Jager, who has played a few games at five for the Toyota Cheetahs this year, but is more recognised as a four lock, that is set to deputise for him.
And now with Matfield injured, De Jager may well be thrust into the spotlight to face the Argentineans at Loftus Versfeld with Eben Etzebeth or Bakkies Botha as his partner.
“The one big thing is – there is always criticism about Victor – but if it wasn’t for him, we would really be in big trouble,” Meyer said on Monday.
“I was very happy with Stephan Lewies in that one game, but with all due respect Scotland aren’t the best in the world. We are a bit hamstrung with Flip out for the season and Lood is the guy we believe can play there. I still believe four will be his best position but we can move him there. Eben (Etzebeth) is another guy we want to start playing there.”
“It is a huge concern, we don’t have five locks in this country and we really want to work hard with Eben and Lood, and Lood will probably move to five if we need him. Victor is working hard with him at the moment. It will take time, and that is an area I’m really concerned about.”
Lewies may well be called up as a short-term replacement for the Boks this week, with Franco van der Merwe (Ulster) and Juandre Kruger (Racing Metro) the other candidates that the Boks could look at.
The last member of the Bok squad - hooker Schalk Brits - finally arrived at the team hotel Tuesday after he had to endure a long journey from Saracens’ pre-season camp in the United States.
The Boks are set to name Matfield’s replacement on Wednesday.