It is not often that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has the luxury of fielding his best team and this weekend’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld will be the closest he has come to his dream team this year.
Putting aside the injuries to Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield, Meyer would have gone to bed last night a contented man with news that Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, captain Jean de Villiers, lock EbenEtzebeth and prop Frans Malherbe have all been given the green light for selection.
“We are happy that Mtawa-rira is back with us after his neck injury, and he did the full squad training last week. He did all the scrums and everything and had no stiffness so we are obviously pleased with his progress,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts yesterday.
“We are really happy with Jean too. He didn’t do every training session last week but we’ve built him in slowly.
“He has progressed really nicely, and this week he has the final session of rehab.”
However, the devil will be in the detail of how Meyer juggles his personnel for his starting line-up against the Pumas with Mtawarira set to start after a six-week injury enforced break due to the neck injury sustained during the June internationals while the biggest selection headache will be who replaces Matfield at number five lock.
“The one issue we have is obviously Victor, who tweaked his knee and has a little tear in the cartilage in his knee. He had scans last week and saw an orthopaedic specialist and has responded well to rest and rehab at the moment.
“We were a little bit concerned that he might have to have a scope to clean that cartilage out. It doesn’t look like that is the case but it still means he is out for the weekend. We’ll reassess him next week and see if he is available for the overseas leg of the Argentina tour.
“Apart from that we managed a few guys through the training last week. We know they have had a lot of load so we kept certain guys out of training. Now it is all systems go and we have full squad training in place so it is looking good for the weekend,” added Roberts.
While Matfield is certain to miss Saturday’s encounter and his return to action is still uncertain, Meyer would have spent the weekend deciding on who, between Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, will fill in for him and probably partner up with veteran Bakkies Botha in the second row.
Springbok forwards coach Johann van Graan admitted that Matfield’s loss was a huge setback to the team but that much work had been done with youngsters De Jager and Etzebeth to get them up to speed with the role at number five, while Duane Vermeulen was cited as another option to call the line-outs on Saturday.
“Victor is probably the best lock that has ever played the game so obviously it is a huge setback. He not only brings organisation to the line-out but around the field he’s a giant on defence, attack and experience. With that said I can’t wait for the next guy to get the opportunity.
“We’ve worked hard with Lood and Eben on their lineout calls. And we did the same with them during the June internationals, so whoever gets selected will be making the calls.
“Duane has been part of the system for a long time now, he’s an experienced leader and showed at the Stormers what he adds to the pack.
“So I’m not too worried, it is good to give guys opportunities and hopefully they will do well on Saturday,” said Van Graan. - The Star