Springboks

Heyneke’s No 7 headache

2012-04-24 14:22
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)

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 sidelines.

There is a bit of a No 7 jinx at the Bulls right now, as well.

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 he captains.

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’ Marcell Coetzee.

 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

Read more on:    springboks  |  heyneke meyer  |  cape town  |  rugby
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