Cape Town – Towering Cheetahs second-row firebrand Lood de Jager
probably did enough on his debut as a substitute to warrant serious
consideration for the Springbok starting XV in the second Test against Wales at
Nelspruit on Saturday.
The 21-year-old played the entire second half of the mostly slick
38-16 triumph in the first encounter at Kings Park after veteran Bakkies Botha
was withdrawn from the fray at the break with an apparent Achilles tendon
French-based Botha, 34, has had issues with that particular
form of injury before – it cut short his 2011 World Cup – and clarity on the
latest mishap ought to be forthcoming, if not sooner, at Monday’s traditional
medical update press briefing with team doctor Craig Roberts.
The veteran enforcer seemed reasonably chipper late on
Saturday night, tweeting (@BakkiesBotha4): “(sic) Nice win for the team tonight. Body
feels good. Off to Nelspruit. Blessings.”
He will have to prove his fitness ahead of the team announcement
on Wednesday, and if there is the slightest doubt around his readiness, it
probably makes sense to rest the 79-cap stalwart whose specialist strengths are
already so well known.
Besides, should Botha sit out the second Test, coach Heyneke
Meyer has a reasonably pleasant predicament in terms of the No 4 jersey, even
if minus the 2007 World Cup winner.
That is because De Jager burst from the international blocks
with great aplomb for his 40 minutes, using his formidable power and height to
impose himself in just about every department of his lock trade against the
But Meyer will also be able to call on another more seasoned
Test campaigner in the form of Flip van der Merwe, who was released from the
Durban game to attend his brother’s wedding and is presumably back in the Bok
camp in the Lowveld in preparation for the mini-series decider.
Frankly, De Jager looks well worth a start if the berth is
going to be up for grabs, although the coach may take the view that his
development should not be conducted too hastily, and keep him as an impact-type
customer for the moment.
But he looks incredibly hungry to grab whatever
opportunities come his way, as you might expect of a player who is appealingly
fresh mentally – unlike several other Springboks who are somehow managing to
run decently enough on reserve tanks after non-stop rugby for several weeks or
De Jager, don’t forget, returned to fullest fitness at an
ideal juncture in the last fortnight or so after breaking a finger at Super
Rugby level for the Cheeetahs in late April.
Whatever happens in the possibly three-horse candidacy for
the No 4 shirt at Mbombela Stadium, the Alberton-born rookie has stuck up his
hand for long-term value to the Bok cause.
With another World Cup not much more than a year out, lock
stocks look as abundant as they have ever been.
warhorses like Botha and Victor Matfield are showing plenty of ongoing lustre
and, at the opposite end of the “experience” spectrum, De Jager now joining
other gifted early twenty-somethings who ought to be strongly in the mix for
RWC 2015 in England like Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit (both currently
sidelined, but the former close to returning for the Stormers).
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing