Lock injuries disrupt Boks’ preparations

2012-08-14 00:00

INJURIES to locks Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth, and Keegan Daniel’s bite from a spider, have disrupted the Springboks’ preparations ahead of their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Newlands on Saturday evening.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said last night he remained concerned about the fitness of his first-choice lock pairing, the Stormers’ Bekker and Etzebeth, while Daniel had been laid low by a spider bite.

Meyer said he had still not settled on his starting line-up for Saturday.

“The locks remain a concern and another worry is the replacement bench,” said Meyer.

“It won’t be easy deciding on the composition of the team this season. We’ll have to take it game by game,” he said.

Etzebeth, though he practised yesterday, is battling to shake a hip problem, while Bekker, a key figure in the lineouts, is recovering from a chronic back injury, but is expected to be passed fit to play.

“Etzebeth did train with the team today, but he is still a bit stiff and we will make a call on him tomorrow,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts.

Roberts said that the Sharks flank and captain Daniel had been bitten on the arm by a spider.

“We have no idea where it came from, but he has stiffness in his arm. He is responding well to antibiotics and is feeling much better.”

Daniel is unlikely to be in Meyer’s starting line-up on Saturday, but his ability to play in all three positions in the backrow suggests he will be on the bench.

Meyer said the involvement of the All Blacks’ World Cup-winning coach, Graham Henry, with the Argentinian team was unlikely to influence their traditional approach.

“All teams play to their strengths and we know what their strengths are,” said Meyer.

“Henry won’t attempt to change the way they play. He will work on their mental strength and try to up their levels of professionalism. That’s what he’ll try to bring to their game.

“I’ve seen a lot of footage of their games and I’ve coached two players in their present squad while I was at Leicester so I know how they play.

“They have a great scrum, they are great maulers, and I’ve noticed that their strength has improved, as well as their fitness levels.”

The former Sharks flyhalf, Juan Martin Hernandez, would test the Springboks with his tactical kicking, said Meyer, and the Boks had worked hard on counters in what could be a wet-weather Test.

“We will have to tweak our game, but we won’t change our style overnight.

“We need to deal with the high ball as well as the opponents’ defensive kicks. We need to be tactically aware all the time,” he said.

The Springboks coach said the Rugby Championship would be a test of the Springboks’ mental toughness, particularly as a run of injuries and the retirement of a number of veterans had forced him to turn to young, inexperienced players.

“There won’t be much between the teams tactically. The difference in the tightest matches is going to be mental, with the team able to handle pressure holding the edge.”

He said thaAll Blacks had an advantage because of the continuity among the coaching staff and the players.

‘We’ll know exactly where we stand with the youngsters after this tournament.

“But the youngsters we do have are mentally tough. All they need now is experience.”

He said the Argentinians were similar in their style to England and the Springboks would be challenged at forward.

“They also punish you for your mistakes as they showed in beating France in June.”

The Test kicks off at 5 pm on Saturday, and Steve Walsh, who handled the recent Chiefs-Sharks Super Rugby final, will be the referee.

There was one piece of good news for the South Africans yesterday when it was confirmed that All Black centre Sonny Bill Williams would not play against the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.

The influential centre is back with the All Blacks, but only for two weeks before he will join his new Japanese club.

The New Zealand Rugby Union have agreed a two-week loan deal with the Panasonic Wild Knights and Williams will start at inside centre alongside Ma’a Nonu against the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.

Williams will also play in the second Bledisloe Cup encounter in Auckland at the end of next week before joining the Knights and then ending his rugby union career by returning to rugby league.

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