Injuries to Warren Whiteley and Sikhumbuzo Notshe should see Dan du Preez trialled at No 8 at some stage in the Rugby Championship, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The list of injured Springbok players grows longer every week. A closer look at the group below confirms that a number of top loose forwards are struggling with niggles of varying severity at present.
Rassie Erasmus recently confirmed that Whiteley, the Lions and Bok No 8, won’t be back for the start of the Rugby Championship. The Bok coach hopes that Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Notshe will recover ahead of the opening clash against Australia on 20 July. As Erasmus pointed out, these players may want for match fitness after a lengthy layoff.
The good news is that Duane Vermeulen will be back in action for the Vodacom Bulls this coming Saturday. Vermeulen excelled for the Boks in 2018 – and fitness permitting – should travel to the World Cup as the team’s first-choice No 8.
But what of Erasmus’ other options? I put this question to Vermeulen in a recent interview for SA Rugby magazine.
‘There’re still a couple of months to go to the World Cup, and to be honest, I’m feeling the pressure,’ Vermeulen said. ‘A number of loose forwards have put their hands up this season.
‘Dan du Preez has been playing tremendous rugby for the Sharks, and I’m sure he would make the most of his opportunity at Test level. Lizo Gqoboka is another forward who has probably given the national coaches some food for thought.
‘These guys are fighting for World Cup places and putting the more established players like myself under pressure. It’s a good thing, though, as it’s forcing us to perform week-in and week-out. We’re all striving for a higher standard.’
Kolisi, Du Toit and Vermeulen comprised the Boks’ first-choice back-row combination in 2018. Who else is Erasmus going to pick for the World Cup, though, in terms of loose-forward cover? Will any other specialists crack the nod, or will Erasmus favour those who can play two or even three back-row positions?
Whiteley could share the workload with Vermeulen at No 8. That said, the athletic player has struggled with injuries over the past three seasons, and it remains to be seen if he will regain his edge and fitness ahead of the World Cup.
Kwagga Smith started for the Boks against Wales in Washington DC last June. Smith went down with a hamstring injury in the recent loss to the Hurricanes. He won’t feature again for the Lions this year.
Last week, Notshe was seen hobbling around Newlands with the aid of crutches. The versatile loose forward has been ruled out for the rest of the Vodacom Super Rugby season, and may only be back on the field in six weeks.
Notshe played six Tests last year, and was backed to start at No 8 against Australia in Port Elizabeth. In the big matches – such as the showdown against the All Blacks in Pretoria – Erasmus favoured Francois Louw at No 8. Clearly Erasmus is a fan of what Louw – typically an openside flanker – can offer the Boks in terms of fetching and carrying options from the back of the scrum.
Erasmus won’t want for No 8 options if Vermeulen, Whiteley, Notshe and Louw are all fit this September. That said, with a couple of those players set to miss the start of the Rugby Championship, the Bok coach would do well to explore alternatives with the World Cup in mind.
Dan du Preez has excelled for a struggling Sharks side in 2019. The No 8 has scored seven tries in 14 appearances. No forward has made more linebreaks (13) in this year’s Super Rugby tournament, while Du Preez is ranked 11th in the competition for offloads. His tackle numbers – 127 tackles as well as an 85% success-rate – speak volumes for his attitude on defence.
Apart from Louw, Erasmus may want to look at one or two ‘utility’ options in the Rugby Championship. Marcel Coetzee has been in great form for Ulster, and could slot in at No 6, 7 or 8. The hard-nosed Rynhardt Elstadt continues to make an impression with Toulouse and is reportedly on Erasmus’ radar.
Like Du Toit, Franco Mostert is good enough to travel to the World Cup as a second-row option. Mostert may add value at blindside flank, though, if the situation demands it.
Erasmus may have enough No 7 options in Du Toit, Vermeulen, Mostert and Jean-Luc du Preez. What’s less obvious is who will pack down at No 8 if Vermeulen is unavailable – and if the likes of Whiteley and Notshe are crocked – and who should go to Japan as the openside understudy to Kolisi.
SPRINGBOK INJURY LIST*
|TRAVIS ISMAIEL||Wing||Shoulder||Late June|
|JESSE KRIEL||Centre||Ankle||This week
|DUANE VERMEULEN||Loose forward||Neck||This week|
|WARREN WHITELEY||Loose forward||Knee||Late July|
|SIKHUMBUZO NOTSHE||Loose forward||Ankle||Mid-July|
|PIETER-STEPH DU TOIT||Loose forward||Shoulder||Mid-July|
|JEAN-LUC DU PREEZ||Loose forward||Knee||TBC|
|SIYA KOLISI||Loose forward||Knee||Mid-July|
|KWAGGA SMITH||Loose forward||Hamstring||TBC|
|LOOD DE JAGER||Lock||Shoulder||Late July|
|AKKER VAN DER MERWE||Hooker||Shoulder||Mid-June|
*Players who featured for the Boks in 2018