PARIS – The Junior Springboks were dealt a massive blow to their title aspirations as influential flyhalf Damian Willemse was ruled out of the remainder of the World Rugby Under-20 Championships due to injury.
Western Province flyhalf David Coetzer and Sharks No 8 Phendulani Buthelezi will join the Junior Springboks in France on Tuesday, as injury replacements for Damian Willemse and Muller du Plessis respectively.
Willemse suffered a knee injury in the team’s match against Ireland on Sunday, which will sideline him for four to six weeks. Du Plessis injured a gluteal muscle in the same match, and is expected to be out for between two and four weeks.
Buthelezi and Coetzer both have Junior Springbok experience having featured in the team’s warm-up matches, with Buthelezi taking to the field in all three matches on the UK tour and against Georgia in Stellenbosch, while Coetzer played against Wales and England on tour.
With sufficient cover among the backs, as centre Rikus Pretorius and winger Sihle Njezula will return to action in the coming games, the coach opted to call up a back and forward as replacements.
“It is never good when players suffer injuries,” said Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux.
“In Damian’s case particularly, if we really had to, we could probably have strapped him and played him in one of the playoff games. But if one looks at the bigger picture, it is better for him as a player and for South African rugby that he takes a break and does proper recovery so that he can be 100 percent ready to play again.
“He has had a very high workload this year at a high intensity, and although his injury is a big loss, it is better that he recovers properly so that he can return to action soon.”
Roux had full faith in Coetzer and Buthelezi and said: “It is certainly a positive to gain players like David and Phendulani. They have been in SA Rugby’s Elite Player Development system for a while now, and they were with us on the UK tour, so they know exactly what to expect from us and they will slot in with ease.”
Having had time to reflect on the match against Ireland, the coach said: “I think we played in patches, but our scrums were good. We usually have a very good lineout, but for some reason it didn’t function. So there are small changes we need make and I am sure we will rectify that for the game against France.”
With the match against France kicking off at 9pm on Thursday in Narbonne, Roux said they would adapt the training schedule in the next few days to ensure that the players could adjust accordingly.
“We have changed our programme slightly so we will be training in the evenings,” he said. “It is simply a case of resetting our clocks and I am sure everyone will adapt easily to that.”
The players will focus on recovery on Monday, and return to the training field on Tuesday to begin their preparations for the French clash.
African News Agency (ANA)