Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer faces a selection headache as they prepare for their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.
After Jean de Villiers was ruled out of the tournament with a fractured jaw, and Victor Matfield sidelined with a hamstring injury, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez was handed the captain’s armband for South Africa’s last two pool stage wins against Scotland and the USA.
Despite having his detractors - with many saying the introverted and media-shy Du Preez would not be an assertive enough character to lead a team like the Springboks - he has done an impeccable job, with a certain calmness around the team under his leadership.
Let’s be honest though, Meyer would have made Matfield captain had he not injured himself against Samoa, and with team doctor Craig Roberts on Sunday saying he expected Matfield to be ready for the clash against Wales, Meyer will be tempted to hand the captaincy back to the latter.
But does 38-year-old Matfield warrant a spot in the starting team?
His replacement, Lood de Jager, has been arguably the best Springbok at this tournament.
De Jager has impressed with his bullocking runs, his lineout play is good and he was South Africa’s top tackler in their last two games - executing 16 hits against Scotland and 20 against the USA.
It would be tough to drop De Jager, who has also combined well with second row partner Eben Etzebeth.
But Matfield would surely not be a better option coming off the bench, and Meyer may be tempted to utilise De Jager as an impact player.
The other lock in the squad, Pieter-Steph du Toit, has performed adequately and it would also be tough to exclude him.
The logical choice seems to be to keep Du Preez as captain for the remainder of the tournament, but exactly how Meyer intends to use Matfield (provided he is fit) is tough to predict.
De Jager could provide great impetus coming off the bench in the second half, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the route Meyer goes, but it would be cruel on De Jager to be demoted to the bench...