Cape Town – Bruising blindside flanker and sometimes emergency lock Willem Alberts looks on course to vitally bolster the Springbok ranks for their end-of-year northern hemisphere tour.
But current first-choice fetcher Francois Louw had surgery on Monday to relieve pressure on a nerve in his neck and is in a race against time to take his own slot on the venture.
Those were key revelations from Bok team doctor Craig Roberts at a media briefing here on Monday, even if the more immediate national-team focus is on Saturday’s Castle Rugby Championship encounter with Australia at Newlands.
Sharks favourite Alberts has been sidelined for a few weeks after having surgery to a pinched nerve in his back, but Roberts said he was “doing really well” and was already knuckling down to catch-up conditioning work.
“Willem is on track to be available for the end-of-year tour.”
That comes as good news for the Boks, who will be seeking in the four-Test venture to repeat their 100 percent record achieved on last year’s European crusade.
Doing so would be a healthy statement ahead of the next World Cup, to be played in England and Wales from September next year.
Alberts is particularly well suited to making ball-in-hand yards on the slower, wintry northern-climes pitches and the “Bone Collector” has shown his effectiveness in such conditions many times before.
On the slightly more negative side, it seems Louw is a fairly long shot for any deployment on the European venture, which would be a setback as he is so well-schooled in those needs through his club involvement for several years now with English Premiership side Bath.
Roberts said the open-side flank would probably require seven to eight weeks on the sidelines from here – even seven of those would already be too late for the first Bok game, which is against defending Six Nations champions Ireland in Dublin on November 8.
If anything, the earlier half of the Bok tour roster is the toughest on paper: the following weekend it is old adversaries England (runners-up only on points differential to the Irish in the Six Nations) at Twickenham.
South Africa then play closing matches against Italy and Wales respectively, where any prospect of Louw getting game-time seems likelier.
Meanwhile Roberts said Japan-based veteran loose forward Schalk Burger had arrived back “full of life” for his call-up in Louw’s place to the current Bok squad.
At this stage he is not being tipped to walk straight into a Bok start as media speculation suggests the loose trio against the Wallabies at Burger’s old stamping ground will be Marcell Coetzee (switching to open side), new cap Oupa Mohoje at No 7 and Duane Vermeulen.
The Bok side is announced by coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday.
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