Cape Town - Fourie du Preez’ injury may well have opened up an opportunity for the next line of halfbacks to make an impression on coach Heyneke Meyer, but it also served as a warning they could play themselves out of contention if they do not take the step up.
Du Preez’ injury - an ankle that ruled him out of the rest of the year and currently leaves him bedridden at his home in Pretoria - was described as a "massive setback" by Meyer in his first chat with the media since the injury.
And the Bok coach wasn’t scared to lay down the gauntlet either, reports the supersport.com website.
It isn’t a secret that Du Preez has been a massive part of the resurgence of Bok rugby under Meyer and his snappy service, excellent vision and superb tactical boot have played a massive part in the Boks’ success in the last two years.
The ability for the halfback to find the right runner, make the right decision and clear the ball from the base at speed simply has no equal in South Africa.
But therein lies the rub.
The Boks don’t have Du Preez available for this year’s Rugby Championship nor the end of year tour, and given the opportunity to impress right now, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Hougaard and new selection Cobus Reinach all have a mountain of work to do if they plan to give similar service to the Bok team this year.
To be honest, there are few, if any, equals to Du Preez in world rugby, but the Boks must now find a halfback that can give similar crisp service and make the right decisions, all the while being able to use the boot tactically when necessary against the toughest sides in the world.
And for the three halfbacks in the squad, while it is an opportunity to impress, it is also a double-edged sword which could work against them.
All three have their strengths and weaknesses, but Meyer has made it clear the Boks are not going to sacrifice what they expect from the next halfback.
"Fourie is an unbelievable setback, by saying that I’m not saying that the other nines are not in the same class, but rather that Fourie brought a lot to our team, especially in attack.
"He was also another captain on the field and the one guy that could always pick up the right runners," the Bok coach explained.
"I don’t know if people realise that, but there was a huge evolution in our game, where we started attacking out of our own 22 metre area, and we really scored some great tries running from our own 22.
"Fourie was a mastermind in that, he knows when to kick, when to run, and when to pass, because of his experience."
Meyer has already had a meeting with the three halfbacks to inform them of what he expects, and while Ruan Pienaar is the favourite to take Du Preez’ starting role, the others certainly have a chance.
"I’ve said to the nines today we need to find the next nine, who will be going with us to the World Cup.
"We’ve tried all the candidates now, so after this I will stick with three nines going forward," Meyer said.