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Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is hoping new tighthead prop Pat Cilliers can “put up his hand” to challenge Jannie du Plessis for the No3 berth in the Rugby Championship.
Cilliers was one of a few Lions players who enhanced their careers in an otherwise disastrous 2012 Super Rugby campaign, where the Johannesburg team won only three out of 16 matches and finished rock-bottom on the log, while also firing head coach John Mitchell during the June Test window.
The former Sharks front-ranker is a strong scrummager, but is also mobile around the field and has a high work-rate. The 25-year-old Cilliers supplants Bulls No3 Werner Kruger, who featured against England in June, for the back-up berth to Du Plessis, as Cheetahs powerhouse Coenie Oosthuizen is out for at least another month with a neck problem.
The Bok coach added that CJ van der Linde, who also sat out the last few Lions games with a hamstring injury, will be back in the reckoning soon once he recovers.
Cilliers may be on the bench for the Boks’ opening game of the Rugby Championship against Argentina at Newlands next Saturday. “Pat Cilliers has proven (himself) and is back (from a calf injury). I think in South African rugby and world rugby, everyone is worried about tighthead! I think Jannie has been playing great rugby, but the next guy hasn’t put up his hand yet. CJ has been injured, and a lot of other guys have moved overseas,” Meyer said at the squad announcement in Worcester on Saturday.
“Pat was close to making the first squad, but I said that I would go for experience and Werner got the nod. Now Pat gets the opportunity to show what he can do, and with Coenie being injured, you want a guy on the bench who can play at loosehead and tighthead, and Pat is probably the only guy who can do that at the moment.”
Sharks No8 Ryan Kankowski was unlucky to miss out on selection after a superb run of games in his team’s charge to the Super Rugby final.
Meyer explained that Kankowski’s decision to sign a six-month deal for Japanese club Toyota Verblitz had complicated matters, but surely something could’ve been worked out? Kankowski deserves to play ahead of Pierre Spies, who has been far from his best for the Bulls this year, against Argentina. He was outstanding against the Reds, Stormers and Chiefs in the Super Rugby play-offs. Apart from his usual running skills, he was brilliant in the line-outs as well.
“It’s a tricky situation. I looked at Ryan and I think he is probably playing the best rugby of his life. He is definitely being considered. We spoke to Ryan as well, and it is quite difficult for him to be selected now,” Meyer said. “So he wasn’t considered for this Test series, but we spoke on Saturday and are still in contact, and hopefully he will be available going forward.”
Meyer’s decision to pick JJ Engelbrecht is a strange one, as the former WP wing has not been convincing in his move to outside centre in his first year at the Bulls. Then there was also Juan de Jongh, who improved in the final stages of the season. His Stormers mate Gio Aplon was also a notable omission from the squad.
The Boks may still deal with a few injury worries after setting up camp in Cape Town last night, as Sharks star JP Pietersen (hand) and Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth (hip) have niggles. But Meyer is confident they will be fit for the Newlands Test. The Boks are also awaiting the return of other injured players like Duane Vermeulen, Johan Goosen, Bjorn Basson, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brüssow, Bandise Maku and Coenie Oosthuizen, who are likely to play Currie Cup rugby in the next few weeks.
That is why the 30-man squad is only for the two Argentina Tests, at Newlands next Saturday and Mendoza on August 25.
Meyer said that veteran scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who is at Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath, will be considered for the Boks later in the Rugby Championship.
Backs: Jean de Villiers (capt), JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak.
Forwards: Willem Alberts, Andries Bekker, Pat Cilliers, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Dean Greyling, Siya Kolisi, Juandré Kruger, Tendai Mtawarira, Jacques Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Pierre Spies, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe. – Cape Times