The input of Springbok players who have played club rugby in France will be crucial to the team's cause in the build-up to the three-Test series. JON CARDINELLI in Pretoria reports.
Duane Vermeulen will miss the Test due to a shoulder injury. On Monday, Bok coach Allister Coetzee said that the No 8 sustained the injury while competing in the French Top 14 final on Sunday.
Word from the Bok camp is that Vermeulen has since arrived in Pretoria. On Tuesday, Bok assistant coach Johann van Graan said that the group was fortunate to have Vermeulen back in their ranks.
Van Graan revealed that Vermeulen may still have an important role to play – albeit a non-playing role – in the buildup to the first Test against France.
Vermeulen has played for Toulon since the start of the 2015-16 European season. The No 8 was given the Toulon captaincy last year.
Steven Kitshoff has represented Bordeaux since 2015, while Chiliboy Ralepelle enjoyed a stint with Toulouse between 2013 and 2015. Frans Steyn has played for Racing 92 (2009 to 2012) and Montpellier (2016 to present).
All four players should have a good idea of what makes the French players tick, and what the Boks can expect at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
‘If you look at the 2016 set-piece stats, South Africa and France were No 1 in the world with a 95% win rate. France have got a very good scrum and a brilliant lineout,’ said Van Graan.
‘We’re very lucky to have a few players who have played in France and who can provide us with information. We intend to use that to our advantage.’
It remains to be seen who Coetzee will select to start upfront against France this week. Vermeulen’s absence leaves the Boks short an experienced lineout option, and short a world-class ball-carrier and defender.
On Tuesday, Van Graan wasn’t giving anything away regarding the make-up of the Bok back row.
‘That’s for Allister to decide, not me. What I can tell you is that we have some brilliant loose forwards in our squad, and selections will be made according to what is needed for the coming challenge. We have to look at striking the right balance.
‘Our mauling will need to be on point,’ Van Graan added. ‘It’s a big part of the game, even in a competition like Super Rugby. Every team is using their players to drive from the lineout and score. And as we’ve seen recently, the French defend the driving maul very well.’