Johannesburg - Lock crisis... what crisis?
That would surely be the reaction of most overseas coaches if they had read the way some local media treated the news that big Lood de Jager has been ruled out of rugby for as much as four months due to a pectoral muscle tear.
Make no mistake, De Jager’s injury should be seen as a big blow to new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus ahead of what is going to be a testing first series in charge against Eddie Jones’ England, particularly as it closely follows the injury to another player who was going to be an influential member of the tight five, hooker Malcolm Marx.
SuperSport.com reports that De Jager, the form lock in the country, has been massive in the resurgence of the Bulls under the coaching of John Mitchell. Like Jessie Kriel and others, De Jager has flourished under the tutorship of the former All Black mentor.
The Boks are also likely to be without the other experienced Bok lock, Eben Etzebeth, against England. Although Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has set Etzebeth’s return to the field after a long injury layoff at “before the June break”, which means he might be involved in the home games against the Lions next week, he has been out for too long to be risked against England. At least for the start of that series. He could be ready for the later Tests, but should he be risked when Erasmus still has enough options?
If you spoke to Erasmus, he might well add another lock to the list of injured. JD Schickerling might not be as universally known as Etzebeth and De Jager but the youngster is a player with immense potential and he was showing that potential in the early stages of Super Rugby before being injured on the Stormers’ overseas tour.
Schickerling tore a bicep in the last seconds of the game against Crusaders and Christchurch and was ruled out for three months. That means he is expected back in time for the last leg of Super Rugby, and just in time for the best forward of last year’s Currie Cup to stake a claim for a place in the Bok squad for the Rugby Championship.
That does not of course help Erasmus in the here and now, but he does have a selection dilemma to anticipate going forward and would have faced a particularly tricky one now had De Jager been fit. As good though De Jager has been, so has Pieter-Steph du Toit. They both wear the No 5 for their respective franchises, so it would have been interesting to see if Erasmus, in the absence of Etzebeth as the No 4, would have been prepared to play them together. And if so, who would have been shifted to the No 4 role.
We may now never know the answer to that for while rugby is a sport with a high attrition rate, meaning you can never say now who will be available and who won’t be by the time November arrives, Etzebeth should be back in the mix by the end of year tour. Either that or RG Snyman might have established himself as the starting No 4. Don’t bet against it, for if he can curb his tendency to spoil his performances with stupid disciplinary infractions, Snyman is good enough, and has impressive X-factor.
And that is why the De Jager injury, while sad, does not signify a crisis. Erasmus has enough locks to factor into his considerations: Franco Mostert didn’t let the Boks down last year and maybe it’s also time to pay more attention to the claims of the underrated Sharks captain, Ruan Botha.
For now though what the injury means is that Erasmus won’t be confronted by the De Jager/Du Toit dilemma that would have been accentuated by the form of the Sharks’ world-class blindside flank Jean-Luc du Preez.
There are many who would like to see Du Toit at No 7, and he has shown good form in that position when used there by the Stormers this season. The smart money might even be on him specialising there for the Cape team once Schickerling returns from injury and re-establishes himself, though the Stormers would then face a dilemma similar to that which might have been faced by Erasmus in the sense that they also have the ambitions of the richly talented young blindside, Cobus Wiese, to consider.
With Du Preez in the form he is in currently it is hard to see how Du Toit can be accommodated on the blindside. Du Preez, who appears to have upskilled considerably since last season, surely has to play. Du Toit though is a hard man to leave out, as would be Etzebeth or De Jager. It is a question though for another time - in the meantime Erasmus can assess his back-up depth at lock. It is not an area where he should feel South African rugby is wanting. Neither is blindside flank.
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