Duane Vermeulen could lead the Springboks against Italy next Saturday if regular skipper Eben Etzebeth fails to recover from a leg injury. JON CARDINELLI in Paris reports.
The Boks won 18-17 at the Stade de France on Saturday to end a five-game winless run. Allister Coetzee asked his charges for a response following the recent 38-3 hiding in Dublin. While the performance in Paris was far from polished, the Boks did enough to get over the line.
‘There’s a lot of relief,’ the Bok coach said afterwards. ‘At the same time I’m pleased that the effort that’s been put in on the training field has been translated into a winning performance on game day.’
The result may have come at a high price, though. Etzebeth was forced to leave the field in the second half with what appeared to be a knee injury.
The Bok captain was in some discomfort when he attended the post-match press conference. He confirmed that he will be going for a scan to his lower leg on Sunday to determine the nature and severity of the injury.
When Etzebeth left the field, Vermeulen could be seen talking to the players, all in a huddle. After the game, Coetzee confirmed that the experienced No 8, who played his first Test in 15 months on Saturday, was backed to take over the captaincy.
‘Eben was off and Siya Kolisi [the official vice-captain for this tour] was also off,’ said Coetzee. ‘So Duane took over. I’m happy with his leadership and his performance as a whole. Duane has made a positive start.’
Kolisi will return to South Africa for a week to be with his wife for the birth of the couple’s second child. The flanker won’t be available for the clash against Italy, and thus won’t be able to assume the captaincy if Etzebeth is indeed ruled out.
Given what transpired in Paris, one would expect Vermeulen to take on the responsibility. Coetzee will also need to rejig his back row. Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Vermeulen could feature in the starting loose trio in Padua.
‘We have a philosophy that there are no numbers on our backs,’ said Coetzee. ‘If you look at the loose forwards who played against France, they are all capable of playing to the ball and carrying. Duane’s introduction gave us another strong lineout option. Dan du Preez lends a lot of stopping power.
‘Now we have Pieter-Steph du Toit coming back [from a concussion] and we sit with a pleasant headache.’
Coetzee looks set to retain the halfback combination that started against France. Handré Pollard missed four kicks at goal on Saturday, but could be retained at No 10 for the next two games. Elton Jantjies will return to his club in Japan after the clash against Italy.
‘It was a poor, or rather a substandard goal-kicking performance [if you consider all the missed kicks],’ said Coetzee. ‘What you need to remember is that Handré did slot a kick at the right time [in the second half, to give the Boks an eight-point cushion].
‘He’s a big, physical 10 that offers you a lot in general play, and it was pleasing to see that his goal-kicking didn’t affect the rest of his game. That said, Pollard and Elton Jantjies are still getting to grips with the territory game. Both can improve in that department.’
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