Johannesburg – The lack of depth in the second-row and the injury-ravaged midfield continues to haunt Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s dreams ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup in England.
Springbok team doctor Craig Robberts read through an exhaustive injury list on Monday in Johannesburg highlighting the selection posers that face Meyer over the next two months.
Most of the injured players would only be available in the latter part of their scheduled six matches before the start of the global showpiece.
The Boks’ lock stocks and the long list of injured centres were the biggest concerns for Meyer as he goes in search of his best possible combinations.
Cheetahs lock Lood de Jager was still in rehabilitation for an elbow injury, while Flip van der Merwe has made himself unavailable for Bok selection with Andries Bekker unable to get leave from his Japanese club.
This effectively only leaves Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth and the Lions’ Franco Mostert as the only fit and recognised locks up for selection for next week’s match against the World XV in Cape Town.
"I am worried about No 5 lock and in our system that is probably the most vital guy because he runs all the lineouts," Meyer said.
"There is a big difference between the No 4 and No 5, we’ve worked with Lood to move to No 5 but he hasn’t played there often enough and especially at Test level."
Although Bekker has expressed his interest in running out for the Boks, his Japanese club the Kobe Kobelco Steelers would not release him.
However, Meyer said there was still hope that they would be able to get Bekker back in the Springbok mix while there were other options they were considering to prop up the No 5 lock stocks.
"We spoke to one or two other guys. Juandre Kruger is still an option because you need a specialist at No5 because 40 percent of tries in the world last year came from lineouts," Meyer explained.
"If you don’t win your lineouts, you don’t win your games and I believe Victor sometimes get unfair criticism.
"But whenever he plays, he wins most of his lineouts and the opposition’s, and he sometimes put in the most tackles."
Meyer said he had been in contact with England-based lock and Saracens captain Alistair Hargreaves, who was available, but Meyer said he decided to reward Mostert for his performances in this year’s Super Rugby.
The Stormers’ Damian de Allende and the Sharks’ JP Pietersen were the only fully fit centres in the Bok squad with the rest either injured or placed on a conditioning programme.
De Villiers, Francois Steyn, Jan Serfontein and Lionel Mapoe were all on the injured list while Jaque Fourie was in need of some much-needed fitness training.
Springbok captain De Villiers, who has miraculously recovered from a serious knee injury, could make his return off the bench in next week’s match against the World XV in Cape Town.
While he should be fit to play again he needs to regain match fitness and game time is what the doctor ordered on Monday.
"You want to build combinations at centre going into the World Cup but we have time now," Meyer said.
"The difficult thing is you can only pick three centres, and Damian de Allende is the only man standing at the momentum and he has been awesome."