Johannesburg - A flare-up of an old injury to an “old” player in Bakkies Botha is likely to result in the only change to the Springbok team for this week’s second Test against Wales in Nelspruit, with Flip van der Merwe set to take over from his old Bulls team-mate in the second row.
The latter is back in the Bok fold this week after missing the Durban Test because of a personal commitment, his brother’s wedding, and that is fortuitous for coach Heyneke Meyer after Botha suffered a recurrence of the achilles tendon injury that has dogged him in recent years and forced his early exit from the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Rookie Lood de Jager was forced into an earlier that anticipated debut after 35-year-old Bakkies pulled up lame just before half time.
It was planned for De Jager to play the last quarter of the match but at half-time he was told to shine up his boots for his debut.
“My heart rate went from 65 to 150 in an instant,” the 21-year Cheetah said. “I was not supposed to play 40 minutes but things change quickly in Test rugby and I had to get out there and play my best for my country. It was the quickest half of rugby of my life and the pace and intensity of the game was so much quicker than Super Rugby.”
The youngster said during the week that he had “sucked up” the experience of Botha, his childhood hero.
“I don’t think you can comprehend how big a deal it is for a young player to suddenly be in the same camp as his heroes, and then come on to replace one of them,” the likeable lock said. “The second half was different to the one I watched from the bench because Wales were chasing the game and were keeping the ball for long periods, which meant hitting ruck after ruck and trying to put in as many hits as I could. In the first half the team was outstanding in how they relentlessly played out the game plan,” said the well-spoken De Jager, who earned three distinctions in his matric exams according to proud coach Meyer, with English possibly being one of them.
Meyer said that the second-half display of tackling by his team had warmed his heart.
“We had a tough week of disruptions and were up against a quality side, so I asked the guys to put their bodies on the line, and we came up with an awesome display that saw us score five tries to one and defend in the second half as well as we had attacked in the first,” the coach said. “We had so many new combinations, most of the backline guys had not played with each other, and guys like Jan Serfontein (at inside centre) disregarded the big reputations of their opposition and defended superbly.”