With virtually the entire Springbok squad – which coach Heyneke Meyer announces tonight – in action today, the new Bok boss will be saying his prayers that no one else is felled by the injury bug in the remaining 160 minutes before the Test window opens.
In Johannesburg at 5pm, the Lions will do their best to unsettle the Sharks, and at a little after 7pm the Bulls host the Stormers in Pretoria.
In the Lions team, captain Joshua Strauss, Pat Cilliers and Elton Jantjies are in the running to make Meyer’s 32-man squad for the series against England, while several Sharks players are to be named in the squad tonight.
In Pretoria, the star-studded Bulls and Stormers are set to go at each other hammer and tongs before several players from both sides become Bok team-mates a few minutes after the final whistle.
The only players Meyer can bank on right now making it through the day and into camp in Durban tomorrow are those from the Cheetahs he’ll include, as well as Ruan Pienaar and Fourie du Preez, who’ll probably be named team captain tonight.
From the Cheetahs, Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss and Heinrich Brussow should make the final squad.
Injuries to a number of key Boks in the last six months, as well as the fact that so many experienced men now ply their trade overseas, means Meyer is already having to work with men he’d otherwise not necessarily pick in a national squad.
Experienced stars and certainties for any series, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Duane Vermeulen and Andries Bekker are unavailable because of injury, while Lions youngster Jaco Taute also picked up a serious injury this week. It is understood Meyer was very keen to get Taute involved with the Boks and took the news that he’ll be out of action for four months rather badly.
Taute, it is believed, was seen as the answer to Jaque Fourie’s absence – he is big and strong and can just about play anywhere in the backline.
Despite all the setbacks though – and the likelihood of more men going down today – Meyer will still be able to pick a formidable team to take on England.
The one area of concern is the second row where, going into this weekend’s Super Rugby matches, Meyer really only had three locks in mind for next week’s first Test: Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe and Eben Etzebeth. If one of them picks up an injury today or next week, Meyer will be in a very tight spot as there are not many quality locks doing the rounds at the moment.
Meyer, though, could spring a surprise and include someone who has not featured much in his planning to date; perhaps Steven Sykes, Wilhelm Steenkamp or Franco van der Merwe.
And now with Frans Steyn back in the country and set to play for the Sharks again, the only overseas-based player likely to be included is Ruan Pienaar, from Ulster. Or will there be more than one overseas-based name read out? Johan Muller to cover at lock?
The rest of the squad just about picks itself, but, as always, whoever is selected won’t be everyone’s choice.
Meyer’s toughest decisions won’t be made today at Loftus; they’ll come in the next few days when he’ll learn that players he wanted to use next Saturday are either injured or not up to scratch.
And he’s going to have to put combinations together that may not haved played together before and he’ll have to consider what’s best in certain positions: youthful talent or hardcore experience.
It really is a fine balancing act.
Forwards: Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira, Werner Kruger, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Juandré Kruger, Marcell Coetzee, Heinrich Brüssow, CJ Stander, Keegan Daniel, Willem Alberts, Pierre Spies, Josh Strauss
Backs: Francois Hougaard, Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar, Morné Steyn, Peter Grant, Frans Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo, Gio Aplon, Zane Kirchner, Pat Lambie