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Coach Allister Coetzee is excited for both Western Province players called up for the imminent Springbok tour of Australasia, but the simultaneous release of JJ Engelbrecht back to the Blue Bulls for this week’s trip to Newlands is somewhat suspicious.
“It’s always a big blow because those are two quality players,” Coetzee said of No 8 Duane Vermeulen and centre Juan de Jongh’s promotion.
“It definitely doesn’t make it any easier for us, but as a coach you want your players to make the Boks.”
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has had high hopes for Engelbrecht ever since the former WP winger made the move to Pretoria at the end of last year.
This was a point proven when Engelbrecht, who made his Super Rugby debut for the Bulls this season, beat out 10-cap De Jongh for a place in Meyer’s squad to face England in June.
The Stormers centre was so far off Meyer’s radar that he was only included in the initial 30-man Rugby Championship squad after winger JP Pietersen joined Bjorn Basson on a long injury list.
Engelbrecht was again preferred when the squad was trimmed for the Argentinian leg of the compeittion, and De Jongh returned to Province for last week’s 26-23 reverse against the Lions at Ellis Park.
An ankle injury forced Bryan Habana from the field with 10 minutes remaining in the Newlands Test, and Engelbrecht made his Bok debut before riding the bench for 80 minutes in Mendoza last week.
It is unclear what Engelbrecht did in 10 minutes of Test duty, or what De Jongh did in a losing effort against the Lions, for both players to swap places on Meyer’s pecking order.
Outside of more injuries, De Jongh is unlikely to see much action in Australia or New Zealand, but Meyer’s selection of fringe players has certainly benefitted a Bulls union he has furnished with multiple titles as a coach since 2000.
Coetzee has filled the gaps with No 8 Jebb Sinclair and centre JP du Plessis in two of six changes to the side that ran on in Joburg.
Veteran scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage replaces Louis Schreuder, while fit-again flanker Rynhardt Elstadt comes in for crocked fetcher Tyrone Holmes, prop Steven Kitshoff makes way for Deon Carstens, and hooker Skara Ntubeni wins his first Currie Cup start as captain Deon Fourie shifts to openside flank for the injured Siya Kolisi.
The rash of injuries to WP loose forwards sees Helmut Lehmann called up from the club ranks,and the Maties fetcher will be eager to make his Currie Cup debut off the bench.
Engelbrecht will make his Currie Cup debut for the Bulls while captain Dewald Potgieter is set to reach the milestone of a 50th appearance in the domestic championshipwhen he leads the team onto Newlands.
“I was very happy to hear that I could select JJ,” said coach Pine Pienaar.
“He has shown what a great player he is and I am looking forward to his contributions to the Blue Bulls.”