Cape Town – The Springbok camp was rocked by the news on Tuesday night that Pierre Spies has been ruled out of the Rugby Championship due to a finger injury.
Spies was due to start at No 8 for the Boks in Saturday’s tournament opener against Argentina at Newlands, but now he is out for eight to 12 weeks. The Bulls captain hurt his finger in the Super Rugby qualifier against the Crusaders in Christchurch last month, but team doctor Craig Roberts said in a statement last night that an initial X-ray did not find “any significant abnormality” with the left ring finger injury.
Spies had taken a full part in the Boks’ preparations in Cape Town over the last 10 days ahead of the Argentina Test. “However, on review and further investigation, including a CT scan and assessment by a hand specialist in Cape Town, it was found that Pierre had a fracture into the joint,” Roberts said. “Surgical correction is needed in order to prevent permanent damage. The usual rehabilitation time for these kinds of injuries is eight to 12 weeks.”
The Bok management announced that Spies would not be replaced in the team at this stage.
But with Stormers star Duane Vermeulen only returning to action after his four-month layoff with a knee injury, as well as Ryan Kankowski’s unavailability due to club commitments in Japan, Meyer is suddenly short of a specialist No 8 for Saturday’s Test.
He still has two excellent options available to him, though, in the shape of Sharks pair Willem Alberts and Keegan Daniel. Alberts has played Test rugby at No 8 before, but is a key ball-carrier and component of the Bok gameplan when it comes to getting over the advantage line.
Daniel has been outstanding for the Sharks when he has played at No 8, but Meyer would probably prefer Alberts’s physical presence at the back of the scrum. Daniel could then come in at openside flank, with Marcell Coetzee shifting to blindside flank.
The other player in the running for a starting berth would be Bulls blindside flank Jacques Potgieter, who made his debut against England in Port Elizabeth. Stormers youngster Siya Kolisi is behind Potgieter and Daniel in the Bok pecking order, so the best that he can hope for is a spot on the bench.
There was at least some good news for Meyer on Tuesday, as lock Eben Etzebeth took a full part in the closed Bok training session in Bellville, which means that his hip problem has recovered sufficiently for him to play on Saturday.
Meanwhile, forwards coach Johann van Graan has called on Andries Bekker to “make his mark” in the Bok side. The Stormers giant is set to play his first Test in over two years at Newlands on Saturday.
The 2.08m lock has played in only 24 Tests despite making his debut back in 2008. A lower-back injury that required an operation saw him miss the entire 2010 international season, and then last year, he ruptured an ankle tendon that ruled him out of the Test season and the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
But he is now over his latest back complaint, and after playing in the shadow of the legendary Victor Matfield for a number of years, Bekker’s time has come. “Andries brings a bit of experience and stability. Credit must go to Juandré Kruger for the way he ran the lineout against England in a very short time. Andries showed in 2010 and 2011 that he can become one of the all-time great locks in South African rugby. I haven’t worked with him a lot, but it has been an absolute pleasure,” Van Graan said yesterday.
“He is a guy that understands the lineouts. Victor was a once-in-a-lifetime player in his own right. He was the first guy to bring a few new things into the game. His record speaks for itself. In that 2010 final in Soweto, where Andries played against Victor, those were the two best lineout jumpers in the world up against each other.
“I think it’s time for Andries to make his mark. I have only worked with him for a week, and I have been very impressed with him. He is quite a tall lock, which helps! I think his speed on the ground is very good, and the fact that there is good competition between himself and Juandré is a good thing.”
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan named his team last night, and has included former Stormers and Western Province player Eusebio Guinazu at hooker.
*Meanwhile, Springbok hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle has had to withdraw from the national squad because of a knee injury, the SA Rugby Union (Saru) said on Wednesday.
Ralepelle, who has played in 21 Tests for the Springboks, injured his knee during a training drill on Tuesday afternoon.
“We assessed him again this morning and he will not be available at least for the first two Tests in The Castle Rugby Championship,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts.
Stormers' hooker Tiaan Liebenberg has replaced Ralepelle in the squad and trained with the team on Wednesday morning in Cape Town.
Liebenberg, who toured with the Springboks at the end of 2007 and played against the Barbarians, had been on the official stand-by list. – Cape Times and Sapa