JOHANNESBURG – In spite of losing Jean-Luc du Preez to injury on Monday, and not being able to select the likes of Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel in a disrupted season, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is confident he has all his bases covered at loose forward for the team’s European tour.
Sharks man Du Preez became the latest loose forward injury casualty to hit the Boks this season, the 22-year-old being ruled out of rugby until next year after he broke his ankle during Saturday’s Currie Cup final against Western Province.
It is a big blow to the Boks, who face Ireland, France, Italy and Wales in back-to-back games in November and starting in Dublin on November 11.
The 34-man squad leave South African shores in two groups on Friday and Saturday respectively.
Coetzee’s team will be hoping for a far more positive trip than a year ago, when the Boks failed to win in four matches on tour.
Regular skipper Whiteley was ruled out in June already, and he was soon followed by Lions teammate Kriel, while the likes of Uzair Cassiem and Oupa Mohoje have also been struck down at various stages this season.
On top of that, Francois Louw only joined the squad for the last two Rugby Championship Tests, while newcomer Dan du Preez has yet to play a Test.
Coetzee will name a replacement for Jean-Luc du Preez on Tuesday, with the favourites to get the nod being Western Province No 8 Nizaam Carr, possibly his teammate Sikhumbuzo Notshe, the Lions’ Kwagga Smith and maybe even veteran Duane Vermeulen, who returned to action for his French club Toulon at the weekend.
Carr and Smith, because of their versatility, must be the front-runners, but whoever Coetzee settles on will most likely fill a spot on the bench as it appears the Bok boss intends starting the tour with the same loose trio that did duty against New Zealand at Newlands the last time out, just over three weeks ago.
On that day, Siya Kolisi – the only constant figure in the Bok back-row this year – played at openside flank, with Pieter-Steph du Toit excellent as the team’s No 7, with Louw at eighthman.
“It’s sad for Jean-Luc, who has broken his ankle, because he has done well for us up to now,” said Coetzee on Monday.
“He’s settled in nicely and has been a part of this building of our pack. I’m confident I’ve made up my mind (about) whom I want to come in, but I will follow the right processes and name the player, as early as Tuesday.
“I’m happy and pleased with the loose forwards we have here, though. The balance is there; it’s now just a matter of making sure I pick the right loose trio on match-day.”
Coetzee hinted strongly though he would go with the men who did duty in Cape Town.
“Siya, Pieter-Steph and Francois did a good job that day, so we’ve got some foundation there. Then, all we need to do is look at who is next in line, and we’re covered with Uzair Cassiem and Dan du Preez who can play eight, and Oupa (Mohoje), who plays seven.
“Pieter-Steph makes a massive difference with his lineout ability, and then Siya and Francois can do duty as open-siders. I’m happy with what we have.”
The only other worry in the Bok camp at the moment is captain Eben Etzebeth, who hurt his ankle at a training camp last week.
But Coetzee is adamant he will be ready for next week’s Test.
“He’s been in a moonboot to stabilise the ankle, but should return to training by Thursday.”
* Meanwhile, Coetzee revealed he will announce later this week when current Bok assistant coach Johann van Graan will leave the Bok set-up to take up his new position as director of rugby at Munster.
Van Graan will take over from Rassie Erasmus, who is expected back in South Africa any day now to become Saru’s new director of rugby.
“Johann is here now and part of our planning. I’ll let you know in the days ahead what the position is regarding him,” said Coetzee.