Heyneke Meyer may be forced to name a brand-new captain for the Springboks’ crunch World Cup match against Scotland on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Newcastle.
The Boks are still suffering in the wake of last Saturday’s brutal physical encounter against Samoa. Their first field session in Newcastle was cancelled due to the high number of injured players. The team announcement on Wednesday has been pushed back to 6pm. Clearly, Meyer wants to give his charges more time to recover before selecting a starting combination for the must-win clash against Scotland.
The Boks said goodbye to captain Jean de Villiers on Monday. The veteran centre fractured his jaw in the 46-6 win against Samoa, and will take no further part in the tournament. Victor Matfield, who has been De Villiers’s understudy for the past two years, is expected to take the reins from hereon in.
That said, Matfield will need to prove his fitness over the next two days. The No 5 lock was brought off after 55 minutes at Villa Park this past Saturday as a precaution. The Bok medical team confirmed on Sunday that Matfield’s old hamstring injury, the one that precluded him from the team that played the All Blacks and Argentina in the 2015 Rugby Championship, is acting up.
The Boks need Matfield to pass muster for this crucial clash. They will need a lineout manager of his expertise in a contest of this nature. They will also need an experienced leader calling the shots in what is likely to be an intense encounter.
However, there is a chance that Matfield won’t be physically ready for the match. In that event, Meyer will have to back another captain, and that decision may alter the team dynamics.
When De Villiers and Matfield were unavailable during the Rugby Championship, Meyer backed Schalk Burger to lead the side. Now that De Villiers is out, and Matfield is in doubt, will Meyer turn to Burger again?
Much may depend on the availability of Willem Alberts. The blindside flanker didn’t run with the team during training in Birmingham last week due to a calf injury. It will be interesting to see if he takes full part in training on Tuesday and Wednesday. If passed fit, Alberts is likely to feature in the starting side.
Alberts needs game time, and has always been more effective in a starting role than from the bench. His selection would force Meyer to drop Burger from the starting side, though.
One just cannot see Meyer shifting Burger to No 8 and pushing Duane Vermeulen to the bench. Vermeulen is another player who hasn’t had a lot of rugby recently, and needs to play as much as possible in the lead-up to the World Cup play-offs. There will be a reluctance to drop Vermeulen given his importance as the team's captain on defence as well as his ability to make the winning play at the breakdown.
Meyer has told SA Rugby magazine on more than one occasion that he rates Vermeulen highly as a leader, and that he sees him as a future captain of the Boks. With De Villiers gone, and Matfield in doubt, perhaps this is an opportunity for Vermeulen to take charge.
The Boks have focused all their energy on the coming game, and rightly so. They need to beat Scotland this Saturday to bank a spot in the play-offs. Should they lose, destiny will no longer be in their own hands.
Other injury concerns include Damian de Allende (knee), Jannie du Plessis (knee) and Fourie du Preez (ribs). Jesse Kriel took a blow to the face last week, but has already been cleared to play this Saturday.
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