CAPE TOWN – The Springboks have been rocked by the unavailability of fullback Willie le Roux for the final two Rugby Championship Tests on home soil.
SA Rugby announced on Thursday that Le Roux (Wasps) and Francois Louw (Bath) won’t be released by their respective English clubs for the games against Australia in Port Elizabeth next Saturday and the All Blacks in Pretoria a week later.
Le Roux has said previously that he was not sure if Wasps would allow him to rejoin the Bok squad, and he had flown from Wellington straight to London for this weekend’s Premiership game.
Two other English-based players, Franco Mostert (Gloucester) and Faf de Klerk (Sale), have remained with the Boks.
In addition, centres Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am, as well as wing Makazole Mapimpi, are all injured and won’t play over the next few weeks.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus will now have to find a new No 15, and while Cheslin Kolbe should be the next in line, don’t be surprised to see Damian Willemse line up in the last line of defence against the Wallabies at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium next weekend.
While Willemse is primarily a flyhalf, Erasmus has mentioned earlier this year that he wants to give the Western Province youngster a chance to gain some Test experience at fullback.
Willemse dazzled in the few minutes he got at No 15 against Argentina in Mendoza, while he also played there in WP’s Currie Cup final triumph over the Sharks in Durban last year.
Province coach John Dobson will name his team later today for Saturday’s Currie Cup clash against Griquas at Newlands (7.30pm kickoff), and Willemse, Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe are all available for selection.
Erasmus named a 17-man Bok group on Thursday that will gather in Port Elizabeth on Friday already to start preparations for the Wallaby clash.
The Bok boss said that he wants to see how some players fared in the Currie Cup at the weekend, and will name additional squad members on Saturday.
“We are still keeping an eye on a number of players who we would like to involve in the coming weeks, but we would first like to see them get through their provincial matches this weekend,” Erasmus said in a statement.
“The players had a brief break after returning from New Zealand, and I’m sure they will return fresh and energised for the last two matches.
“While we lost a couple of players to injury, but we are looking forward to possibly welcome back some others who have been playing for their provinces and recovered from injury.
“The two home matches will give us more time to work together as a group, to build on continuity and increase our depth.”
With both centres out, André Esterhuizen will hope to be in the mix again in PE, although Erasmus could also opt to move Handré Pollard to No 12 and start Elton Jantjies at flyhalf.
Other potential Bok contenders at centre, wing and fullback who will play in the Currie Cup this weekend include Dillyn Leyds, Curwin Bosch, Andries Coetzee, Sbu Nkosi and Lionel Mapoe.
Preliminary Springbok squad
Forwards (10): Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (captain), Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, RG Snyman, Warren Whiteley.
Backs (7): Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, André Esterhuizen, Elton Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard.