Rassie Erasmus may be forced to play Frans Steyn and Damian de Allende in tandem if first-choice No 13 Lukhanyo Am breaks down in the coming weeks, writes JON CARDINELLI in Omaezaki.
Jesse Kriel has been ruled out for the rest of the World Cup due to a hamstring injury. The outside centre’s place in the 31-man squad will be taken by utility back Damian Willemse.
News of Kriel’s injury came as a shock to those on the ground in Omaezaki. On Monday, Bok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot assured the media that Kriel was on the mend. The player trained by himself at the subsequent practice session at Nexta Field, but appeared to be running without discomfort.
Tuesday’s training session was a different story. Kriel sat on the sideline with a look of abject disappointment on his face. A couple of hours later, Rassie Erasmus confirmed that one of his most experienced backs was going home.
The Boks arrived in Japan with two outstanding No 13 options. While Am has long been Erasmus’ preferred starter, Kriel has taken his game to another level over the past few months to give the national side a world-class alternative.
Now that Kriel is out, Erasmus may have to get creative with his midfield selections if Am breaks down.
De Allende began his Test career playing outside Jean de Villiers in the Bok side of 2014. While he may not be as good a defensive coordinator as Am or Kriel, he will offer value as a strike runner.
De Allende has been one of the more effective ball-carriers at this World Cup. The All Blacks struggled to contain him in Yokoha and he crossed the gainline regularly.
If Am breaks down, we may see De Allende shifting from 12 to 13. Steyn and De Allende were in the centres when Am left the field in the second half of the recent match against Namibia. Perhaps Erasmus was already planning for the worst-case scenario of Kriel going home.
The Boks have two matches to play until the quarter-finals. Erasmus must be hoping that two or three of his key backs remain fit given the dearth of experienced options.
In theory, the Boks have plenty of alternatives at 15. The arrival of Willemse will give them another option at 10.
But make no mistake, this Bok side will need Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard and Willie le Roux fit and firing if they are going to challenge the better teams in the knockout phase.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 2, 2019
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