Heyneke’s No 7 headache
Cape Town – South Africa may have a time-honoured reputation
for being a “loose forward factory” but the Springboks look like facing a rare,
injury-caused dilemma over who will wear the No 7 jersey in the Test series
against England in June.
With the three-Test series now just a few weeks away,
potential candidates for the blindside flank role suddenly no longer line up
nearly as convincingly as they did nearer the start of the Super Rugby season.
Just for one thing, there was still some optimism at the
time that Bok 2007 World Cup-winning stalwart Juan Smith would return to the
Cheetahs’ frame in time to be considered for mid-year international duty.
But his hopes were dashed with news that the tough,
respected blindsider’s long-term Achilles tendon injury had not improved
satisfactorily and he faces many further months on the sidelines – if, alas,
the 31-year-old’s career is actually to resume at all.
It is beginning to look like a long shot.
The incumbent Bok No 7, of course, is Stormers captain
Schalk Burger (with Heinrich Brussow first-choice as specialist fetcher in the
No 6 shirt), as he lined up in that slot at the 2011 World Cup, including in
the controversial quarter-final exit to Australia.
But now bleak smoke signals surround Burger’s comeback from
his knee injury; although unconfirmed at the time of writing, it seems his
return to the Stormers’ helm may only occur in July, after the Test “window”.
That is several weeks beyond initial estimates.
The Stormers have also been dealt a body blow by the more
recent setback to Duane Vermeulen, whom they mostly engage at No 8 but might
have been a very credible candidate for the Bok No 7 shirt as he is well
familiar with that task and always boasts a massive work ethic, regardless of
specialist area of responsibility.
Meanwhile concern exists in the Sharks camp around the
fitness of Willem Alberts, the versatile battering ram who can do duty with
equal aplomb at seven or eight.
He has not been at his best yet in an inconsistent Sharks
side, and appears to be nursing a niggling shoulder problem – hardly the ideal
injury to have for a man renowned for his dip-the-shoulder-and-drive style.
Another of that franchise’s No 7s, the similarly earthy Jean
Deysel, is also struggling a tad to re-assert himself after months on the
There is a bit of a No 7 jinx at the Bulls right now, as
The luckless Dewald Potgieter, another previously-capped
Springbok, had just returned from a freak arm-cut injury when he tore a
hamstring soon after his introduction off the bench against the Lions at
Coca-Cola Park recently.
And in terms of overseas-based players, the sometimes maddeningly
under-rated Bok Francois Louw, capable of operating on either side of the
scrum, is presently out of action with a knee injury for Bath, the English side
All of this leaves new Bok coach Heyneke Meyer with an
unwanted headache as he starts mulling over who to field as his blindsider
against England in the first Test in Durban on June 9.
Port Elizabeth-born Jacques Potgieter, 26, has been a
revelation for the Bulls in their early surge toward the top of the Super Rugby
standings, and he might just fit the bill if Meyer wants “physicality” to be a
key requirement in the role.
Lions captain Joshua Strauss is another adaptable player
worthy of consideration, although he is presently operating from the back of
his struggling team’s scrum.
Meyer has hinted that experience will be a strong factor in
his thinking for the short-term needs of the England series – coming at a
challenging time at the height of the Super Rugby slog – so a dark horse, if
the No 7 issue does become some sort of crisis, could be someone he knows so
well from his lengthy tenure at Loftus: Danie Rossouw.
Now Japan-based, the lock-cum-loosie may not have age on his
side (he turns 34 on May 6) but he has always been a commendably no-frills,
full-blooded competitor in green and gold.
He is probably short of a gallop at present, but the sight
of the white jersey of the old northern enemy could be enough to get his
competitive juices flowing quite quickly -- if he is available.
But if notably younger guns are to possibly feature, then
Meyer will be tempted to look no further than exciting prospects like CJ
Stander (Bulls) and Siya Kolisi (Stormers) – both have been forced into
slightly unfamiliar open-side roles in Super Rugby of late, yet fared
outstandingly all the same, only further indicating the extent of their credentials.
For exhilarating, livewire factor there is also the Sharks’
He has little
first-class mileage below his belt, which counts against him and one or two
others if Meyer stubbornly feels he is not yet ready for outright “youth”, but
Coetzee’s performances have often stood out in an otherwise stuttering outfit
in recent weeks.
Meyer may well find he is not able to field precisely who he
wishes to at No 7 in his earliest Test matches, but a hidden gem could inadvertently
come to light as a result ...
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing