Boks start to look threadbare
Jean de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - How many able bodies will Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer
have left to call on when he assembles his squad for the end-of-year tour?
It is becoming a more and more sobering question, especially after Wednesday’s unexpected revelation that national captain Jean de Villiers will not turn out in Western Province’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Lions in Johannesburg (Saturday, 19:00).
“Unexpected” is used deliberately rather than “shocked” because De Villiers’s hamstring problem will not have surprised those who suspect that the seasoned centre has already played too much rugby this year and was bound for a seize-up of some sort.
Of course he may yet recover in time to take part in a possible final, if the now Deon Fourie-led Province manage to win at Coca-Cola Park in his absence, and there will still be a further fortnight before the Boks tackle Ireland in their first of three Northern Hemisphere assignments.
But the 31-year-old relative veteran will probably be walking an injury tightrope for the remainder of the gruelling season anyway, and no doubt national coach Meyer will already be training his thoughts toward possible replacements - both in midfield and as skipper - for the tour.Allister Coetzee
, the WP coach, said at a media briefing at Newlands on Wednesday: “We don’t know the extent yet of Jean’s strained hamstring; I assume it is the same one that kept him out for a while from Springbok training.
“I don’t want to risk Jean at all. He’s been sent for X-rays and scans and we’ll await (the outcome).
“The injuries we’ve picked up this season have really been freakish. We’ve really been hit hard even from the Super Rugby (campaign), but I think the team will still respond this weekend.”
Marcel Brache, who had had a good Currie Cup before De Villiers stepped back into that particular fray at No 12 against the Cheetahs last weekend, slots back into midfield alongside Juan de Jongh.
“Marcel has played throughout the season and has come a long way; grown a lot as a player. He’s certainly no stranger to the set-up.”
Nevertheless, Meyer in particular now faces an anxious wait for De Villiers’s medical verdict.
Increasingly, his options position by position for the Irish and UK tour are being eroded by the injury hoodoo, which unsurprisingly is affecting South Africa by this stage of the year more than it is, say, their great rivals the All Blacks who benefit from a greater “country over club” say in player game-time management.
Should the De Villiers news be bleak, likely replacement captaincy options would include hooker Adriaan Strauss
, a stalwart in that capacity for the Cheetahs, and possibly the in-form open-side flanker Francois Louw
, who has earned favourable reviews in that capacity at Bath in the English Premiership.
There is a certainly a problem potentially developing in midfield, where both men Meyer has put his faith in for the best part of the Test season - De Villiers and Frans Steyn
- are currently crocked. The latter is definitely out until 2013 with his ankle injury.
Soon to be Newlands-bound, the Lions’ versatile Jaco Taute can at least be said to be a fit “incumbent” as he turned out at No 13 in the 32-16 defeat to New Zealand at FNB Stadium.
But he had some issues defensively as the All Blacks increasingly turned on a charm offensive through ball-in-hand play that day, and some pundits feel the tall customer is likeliest to return to fullback anyway when he moves south on loan for Super Rugby 2013.
Since he named his maiden Test team of the year against England in Durban back in June, Meyer has gradually surrendered Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis and Pierre Spies
to injury, and of the match 22 announced to play the latest game against the All Blacks, all of Andries Bekker
, Johan Goosen
, Tiaan Liebenberg
and Coenie Oosthuizen
have subsequently had their seasons ended.
Perhaps De Villiers will get a green light to resume his campaign, although it is difficult not to suspect that a year-ending verdict would actually be a blessing in disguise.
Just not a scenario the already embattled national coach fancies, of course, as he grapples shorter-term requirements...
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