Suspensions, injuries put pressure on De Villiers

Injuries and the suspensions of Schalk Burger for eight weeks and the suspension of Bakkies Botha for a fortnight will heap more pressure on Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, already under fire for his strange utterances, allegedly racist statements and controversial Bok selections, when he sits down to finalise the side for Saturday’s third Test against the British and Irish Lions in Johannesburg.

Injuries to utility forward Danie Rossouw (knock to the head, being monitored), Andries Bekker (suspected small cartilage tear in the knee), Jean de Villiers (shoulder AC joint), and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez (discomfort in the shoulder) will make it an uncomfortable night for the coach.

De Villiers and Du Preez are likely to be fit, the other two doubtful.

And De Villiers has already indicated that he could draw players from the Bulls into the squad “because they are nearby”.

No positions have been mentioned, but it could be that flanker Dewald Potgieter and scrumhalf Heini Adams are on the shortlist.

There has been no feedback on Ryan Kankowski, injured some three weeks ago, who is a present member of the squad.

The selection of a replacement for Burger is an easy one. Heinrich Brussow should have been there last Saturday after Burger’s disappointing form in this year’s Super 14 and his injury, the results of which were palpably visible as he struggled with his fitness in the second Test.

At lock in place of Botha, an unfit Andries Bekker would have been the selection, despite the fact that would have meant two similar locks with Victor Matfield as his partner and no “enforcer”.

The Sharks’ Johann Muller or Steven Sykes, or even the Bulls’ Wilhelm Steenkamp, could be called upon.

De Villiers’ absence should be easily covered—but it won’t be. The best centre pairing available to the coach would be that of Jaque Fourie at inside centre and Wynand Olivier at his outside, but De Villiers’ preference for Adi Jacobs in the past will probably see him retain his place at No 12 with Fourie—who has been a handful when he came on as a replacement against the Lions—playing on the outside.

The best centre in the Super 14 competition, Olivier, will probably sit out again.

De Villiers has the luxury of a series win with one Test to play against a side that seems to have fallen apart as a touring side this past weekend, with their much-publicised unity under severe pressure after the many injuries and the series now lost.

Frans Steyn has done some good and some bad, but he was not really tested by the Lions in the first two Tests. This could see De Villiers surprise by playing Earl Rose, nowhere near good enough for Test rugby, on his home turf on Saturday. The coach rates him highly, and would dearly love to give him his first cap after being part of the Bok setup since the end of last year.

Morne Steyn, in his two outings as a replacement, has made a compelling case to be included ahead of Ruan Pienaar. He literally saved the first Test with his last-gasp tackle of Ugo Monye, and kicked two wonderful kicks in Pretoria to clinch the second test in which Pienaar looked uncertain and without a goal-kicking game needed at this level.

One can only hope that scrumhalf Fourie du Preez will be fit (which does seem likely). De Villiers’ preferred number two Ricky Januarie is not nearly fit or on form, but despite the criticism De Villiers is unlikely to get someone from outside the present squad to start.—Sapa

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