Injuries suffered by both Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth over the weekend could force Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber to blood a new second-row combination, writes DYLAN JACK.
Following RG Snyman’s season-ending ACL injury – in the opening minutes of his Munster debut – the Boks could be without at least three of their ‘Awesome Foursome’ set of locks that did the business during the 2019 World Cup.
De Jager was forced off the field in the closing stages of the Sale Sharks’ win over the Leicester Tigers after ‘popping his shoulder’ – his third shoulder injury in succession – with a full diagnosis still awaited from Manchester. De Jager has already undergone surgery on both his shoulders, something that delayed his debut for the Sale Sharks after the World Cup final.
Possibly even more concerning, Etzebeth – who was a substitute in Toulon’s opening loss to La Rochelle – played just 12 minutes after coming off the bench before being sidelined with a rib injury. The extent of this is still unknown, but it was apparent from the Springbok’s pain that he could be set for a period in the recovery room.
The fourth of the World Cup-winning locks, Franco Mostert, has played just six games this year after leaving Gloucester to join Honda Heat in Japan, with the Top League season still to get under way.
This will add to Bok coach Nienaber’s concerns as he is already worried that his team won’t have enough game time before potentially leaving for the Rugby Championship in mid-October. Nienaber specifically indicated that he wanted Springbok players to have six weeks of regular competition before the Rugby Championship starts in the first weekend of November. However, with a domestic South African tournament only launching in October and the team having to fly to New Zealand by 18 October to fulfil a two-week quarantine on arrival, that appears unlikely.
Most certainly, if the worst is confirmed and De Jager and Etzebeth are forced to miss the Test window, Nienaber will have to blood a new second-row combination, with Pieter-Steph du Toit’s injury status also uncertain at this point. Du Toit suffered a freak leg injury back in February which developed into acute compartment syndrome, nearly costing him his leg. While he starred for the Springboks at blindside flank – winning 2019 World Player of the Year award – he could have been a potential alternative as a No 5, having played the early parts of his professional career at lock for the Sharks.
As far as a pecking order goes, the next two locks in line for a call-up would be Marvin Orie and JD Schickerling as both have previously been involved in the Bok camp. Orie made his debut in the infamous Washington DC Test against Wales, but has won only two more caps against Argentina and Australia, both as a substitute. Schickerling first toured with the Boks in 2018, but his own bad luck with injuries has had him miss out on the opportunity to make his Test debut under Rassie Erasmus.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Salmaan Moerat called up, despite the 22-year-old’s apparent lack of experience at the top level. Having had to wait for his opportunity to regularly wear the Stormers’ No 4 shirt, he was making the most of it in 2020, before the Super Rugby season was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Moerat is a highly-rated leader as well, having captained both the SA Schools and Junior Springboks side, so wouldn’t be daunted by the opportunity to play Test rugby.
Jason Jenkins – who recently returned to the Vodacom Bulls on short term loan from Japanese Top League outfit Toyota Verblitz – is also worth a look. The 24-year-old Jenkins also made his Springbok debut in the Washington Test, but has been playing at the top-flight club since 2016.
Other options – including Ruben van Heerden, Hyron Andrews and Sintu Manjezi, all in good form for their franchises – make it clear that depth is not an issue when it comes to South African-based locks. The major issue will be experience as a number of these players will be making their debuts against more experienced opponents if selected.
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