Port Elizabeth - Stormers man Gio Aplon is finally set to start at fullback for the Springboks in Saturday’s third and final Test against England at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Incumbent fullback Patrick Lambie’s ankle injury sustained in last week’s 36-27 win in Johannesburg is proving troublesome at the moment, and while team doctor Craig Roberts did not rule the Sharks star out of this weekend’s clash, Lambie is unlikely to be ready to play.
Aplon ran at fullback throughout Monday’s practice at Grey High in front of an excited crowd of over 3 000 Bok fans, while Lambie was not even present at the field and had stayed behind at the team hotel. Stormers No 15 Joe Pietersen was also called up to the squad yesterday as fullback cover, and was set to join the team last night from Cape Town.
Zane Kirchner, who started at fullback in the first Test in Durban, is still not over his knee problem either.
Pietersen has been struggling with a back injury, but the Stormers medical team have cleared him to join to Bok squad. “Joe has always been part of our plans and also attended our final planning camp in Durban shortly before the England series started,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said in a statement.
“Injuries are part of the game and something you can’t plan for, but we always knew Frans (Steyn) was not going to be available for this Test. Joe knows our systems and gameplans, and I’m sure he will slot in easily.”
Aplon’s stepping ability and electric speed could be an ideal fit for a Bok team that embraced a more expansive style of play last week, where the likes of wings Bryan Habana and Man-of-the-Match JP Pietersen were brought into the game as the home side looked to play with width.
Flank Willem Alberts sat out of training on Monday as well with a knee injury, and there is a possibility that he may not ready for the Test either. If he can’t play, big Bulls bruiser Jacques Potgieter is likely to make his Test debut as he filled in for Alberts in the “probables” team at training on Monday.
“It’s difficult for me to say now what chance they have of playing. Pat’s quite sore now and his ankle is quite swollen at this stage, so that is why we will give it until Wednesday and make a decision on Wednesday,” Roberts said after practice on Monday.
“Willem Alberts twisted his knee in that tackle when they scored that try. He’s got a medial collateral sprain, which was confirmed today on scans. Luckily there is no other damage to his knee, apart from that inside knee ligament. We will give him until Wednesday as well to determine his availability for Saturday.”
Roberts said that there was little chance of Lambie and Alberts being risked in the dead-rubber Test if they weren’t 100% fit to play.
“If they are not ready to play, then they are not ready. I don’t like putting guys on the field where there is a significant risk of making their injury a lot worse,” he said.
“Heyneke said that we’ve got until Wednesday, and if they are not ready by then, then they won’t be ready for the game.
“A lot of players do carry niggles – if you look through the team, probably half of them are carrying a niggle. And it’s the same thing with the Super Rugby teams. But that’s the nature of the game.”
There was some good news on the Bok injury front on Monday, though, as locks Eben Etzebeth and Juandré Kruger were cleared to play. Kruger was taken off the field on a stretcher in Johannesburg with a sore neck, while Etzebeth has been hampered by a shoulder problem for a number of weeks.
As expected, Bulls centre Wynand Olivier is set to win his 37th Test cap in place of Frans Steyn, who is unavailable as he is getting married on Saturday.
Olivier ran at inside centre during Monday’s practice, with captain Jean de Villiers continuing at No 13. - Cape Times
* England face the Northern Baabaas on Tuesday night.