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JP PIETERSEN is out for six to eight weeks, Juan de Jongh has been called up in his place and Bakkies Botha could be back in a Springbok jersey soon.
That was the news to come out of the Bok camp yesterday in their first full day of training ahead of next Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Newlands.
Pietersen broke his thumb during the Sharks’ Super Rugby final defeat against the Chiefs in Hamilton at the weekend, and will undergo surgery tomorrow. Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said at a press conference at a city hotel last night that Pietersen’s absence was a big loss to the team as he was in top form throughout 2012.
“JP has been awesome this year. He has played some of the best rugby that I have ever seen him play, in the England series and after that. If you just look at some of the tries he has scored, and been involved in ... JP in particular is a huge setback, and there are a lot of other top players injured, while some of our best players are overseas,” Meyer said.
“But in saying that, it opens the door for guys like Lwazi Mvovo, with Bjorn Basson also injured. I did consider Gio Aplon, but Bryan Habana and Lwazi will probably start, and we have enough guys who can cover wing like JJ (Engelbrecht) and Francois Hougaard. But I want Francois to focus on nine as there are still a lot of things he needs to sort out in his game.”
Botha’s return to Test rugby is on the cards as Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth is struggling with a hip cartilage injury. Bok team doctor Craig Roberts said last night that Etzebeth will visit a specialist in Johannesburg today to ascertain the state of the injury.
If the 20-year-old is ruled out of the Argentina Test, Meyer said that Botha, who plays for French club Toulon, could make a comeback to the Bok side. The Bok coach added that he is also considering Lions lock Franco van der Merwe. “I have always rated Bakkies, and suddenly with all the injuries we have, we can’t just go there with an under-21 side playing the best in the world,” Meyer said.
“Bakkies has actually played well. I have been looking at every single overseas player, and I have always said that if it’s a 50-50 call, I would go for the South African guy. But if Eben is injured, suddenly there are not a lot of four locks around, and I will definitely look at Bakkies. Franco was impressive when he trained with us, and even though he is more of a five lock, he can play at four as well.
“It’s a pity that Pieter-Steph du Toit is injured at the moment, as that’s a type of guy who I want to give a chance as well.”
Doctor Roberts added that back-up hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle is busy with rehabilitation from a knee ligament strain, and if he is not yet ready, Meyer said that he is considering WP hooker Tiaan Liebenberg and Sharks No 2 Craig Burden as possible replacements.
Bok captain Jean de Villiers took a full part in training yesterday in Bellville, and looked to be in good spirits. De Villiers cut a disconsolate figure after the Stormers lost their Super Rugby semi-final against the Sharks, and said afterwards that he was “doubting himself” when it comes to the captaincy.
But Meyer said that the 31-year-old centre is still the best choice as Bok skipper. “Jean is in a great space. I really want to vouch for Jean – I thought that the Stormers had a brilliant year, when you look at all the injuries they had and guys playing out of position. If you look at all the youngsters that came through, Eben ... and Andries (Bekker) was injured for most of the season,” he said. There was a lot of disruption, and (Steven) Kitshoff and (Frans) Malherbe are 20 years old. As a leader, Jean did brilliantly to get that team to the top of the South African conference, and then top of the log. We’ve seen New Zealand on top of the log and then losing the World Cup once or twice.
“I believe he’s a brilliant captain. The thing I like about Jean is that he always looks at himself first and doesn’t blame the team. That’s the type of guy I want as my captain.
“I will definitely have a chat with him, as I don’t think he must say things like that! He must look at the positives, what he’s done for the team with Schalk (Burger) out and Duane (Vermeulen) out. What he achieved is awesome.”