CAPE TOWN – A lack of match fitness for big-name Springboks such as captain Siya Kolisi, Tendai Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, as well as Pieter-Steph du Toit and Warren Whiteley could scupper their Rugby Championship title ambitions, and subsequently their Rugby World Cup preparations.
Coach Rassie Erasmus cut a confident figure on the Bok injury situation, though, during Friday’s press conference at the SA Rugby headquarters in Plattekloof, where he announced a new player contracting model.
But he did admit that some of those players will not have the necessary match sharpness heading into the Championship.
The Bok boss, who doubles up as the director of rugby, insisted that of all the injured players above, only De Jager and Whiteley are in danger of missing the start of the Rugby Championship, which will only be a three-match, single round tournament due to the World Cup.
The South Africans face the Wallabies at Ellis Park on 20 July, before travelling to Wellington to take on the All Blacks on 27 July.
They will make the trip to South America to play Argentina on 10 August, but will play an additional match against Los Pumas in Pretoria a week later.
So, that leaves only four Tests for the likes of Kolisi and Etzebeth to attain their best form before the World Cup squad travel to Japan, where they will play another warm-up match against the host country on 6 September in Saitama, about 30 kilometres outside Tokyo.
“I think we are one of the fortunate countries at the moment. We sit every morning and go through our lists,” Erasmus said.
“I think the only doubtful players for the start currently, who are really in the mix for the Rugby Championship, are Lood de Jager and Warren Whiteley.
“Warren will definitely be out for the start of the Rugby Championship. I think if you go and look at some of the other countries, there are guys who are already out and are serious contenders for the World Cup as well.
“Where you are correct is that the guys’ match fitness will definitely be a problem.
“In terms of injuries, a guy like Siya Kolisi is going to be out now, but he is going to be fit for the first Test match (of the Rugby Championship). But game time will be a problem.”
Erasmus, though, said he was pleased with how the Boks have been managed in Super Rugby.
Despite the odd decision to send Handre Pollard to Dunedin this week to play for the Bulls against the Highlanders – which the Bok coach explained was necessary, even though Pollard came off an injury and missed just three games in total – Erasmus felt that the top players had received sufficient game time.
“That’s why I mentioned a guy like Handre Pollard. If, for example, he didn’t play now (in the 24-24 draw on Friday against the Highlanders), and the Bulls didn’t draw the match… And he didn’t play in the last match (against the Lions), he wouldn’t have played for six weeks going into the Rugby Championship,” he said.
“At the beginning of the season, we addressed this with the franchises, and we agreed on average minutes that we would like every single player to be on.
“If I must be honest with you, they are really – it’s 50 minutes more or 60 minutes. They are really close to the targets, so I want to thank them (the franchises) for that.”
Highlanders v Bulls | Super Rugby 2019 Rd 17 Highlights— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) June 7, 2019
The @Highlanders were fast out of the blocks but couldn’t shake the visitors, @BlueBullsRugby drawing for a second week in a row, 24-24.#SuperRugby #HIGvBUL pic.twitter.com/NV9hoEVq9i
Springbok Tests In 2019
Saturday 20 July: Wallabies, Ellis Park
Saturday 27 July: All Blacks, Wellington
Saturday 10 August: Argentina, Salta
Saturday 17 August: Argentina, Pretoria
Springbok World Cup Pool Games
Saturday 21 September: All Blacks, Yokohama International Stadium (6.45pm Japan time, 11.45am SA time)
Saturday 28 September: Namibia, City of Toyota Stadium (6.45pm JPN, 11.45am SA)
Friday 4 October: Italy, Shizuoka Stadium (6.45pm JPN, 11.45am SA)
Tuesday 8 October: Canada, Kobe Misaki Stadium (7.15pm JPN, 12.15pm SA)@ashfakmohamed