Juan in Bok downgrade blow
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Durban - Key forward Juan Smith appears to have taken a step backwards, rather than the much-desired other way, in his quest to be fit for the 2011 World Cup.
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Springbok coach Peter de Villiers conceded to Sport24 at an Umhlanga media briefing near here on Thursday that the big Free State flanker would now not play any role in the Castle Tri-Nations Test against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth next weekend.
It had originally been hoped that Smith, who is in arduous rehabilitation from a torn Achilles tendon in February, might be good for 20 minutes or thereabouts off the bench in the last Bok fixture ahead of RWC 2011.
But the forecast for his comeback has effectively been downgraded.
“This conference was going along well until you started this,” joked De Villiers, when asked for an update on the progress of still-injured loose forwards like Smith, Schalk Burger and Willem Alberts, who have been with the Bok camp ahead of Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies but not yet available for selection.
“Schalk will only be ready for our first game (against Wales on September 11) at the World Cup, but he’s working harder than I’ve ever seen him do.
“He’s also that type of player who doesn’t need many games to get his form back.
“Juan is still struggling a lot ... we hope to see him perhaps play some games for the Cheetahs before we go. That will be his only chance, I think.”
Of course time is beginning to count ominously against Smith - whom De Villiers dearly wants at the World Cup after describing him as “one of the first names on the sheet” when fit.
Presumably not being able to contribute to the Bok cause in Port Elizabeth means Smith will also be unlikely to feature significantly - if at all - in the Cheetahs’ Currie Cup match next Saturday at home to the Pumas.
They then play consecutive away matches against Griquas on August 27, and the Leopards on September 3 - hopefully reasonably good opportunities for Smith to get game time, although the Bok squad would be in departure mode for New Zealand by the time the second game comes along.
Brighter news was that De Villiers said Alberts, the big Sharks ball-carrier, would be ready for consideration next week.
“He’d probably have been ready to go this week, but as we did with Heinrich (Brüssow) we want to first be confident that he can last for seven, eight games going to a World Cup.
“I’m more at ease (on the broad Bok loose forward situation) today than I was on Tuesday.”