Time to Bok ’n roll

2009-06-02 00:00

THEY might not have played rugby for weeks now, but injured Sharks backs Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn could still be in Peter de Villiers’ Springbok squad to face the British and Irish Lions in the three-Test series.

De Villiers will name his squad for the series on Monday, and, following a series of injuries, there is still no certainty about who will play at flyhalf and fullback.

De Villiers has said that Pienaar is his first-choice Test flyhalf and goalkicker, but the Sharks utility back spent most of the Super 14 on the sidelines, first with a knee injury and then with an ankle sprain.

Steyn, who has played every­where in the backline except scrumhalf for both the Boks and the Sharks, would have been a certainty for the Bok match squad of 22, until it emerged he and his agent were flirting with a move to Paris and he then injured his knee ligaments and was sidelined for the crucial closing weeks of the Super 14.

Both players are making a rapid recovery from the injury and are at the “straight line” running stage of rehabilitation. There is a possibility both may play for the Sharks against the Lions in Durban on May 10 in a hectic race to prove their fitness and form for the British Lions series, which starts with the King’s Park Test just 10 days later.

The question on whether Steyn is to be lost to Sharks and South African rugby is still unanswered. It is widely believed that the talented Steyn, who turned 22 earlier this month, would move to Racing Metro for an offer of R4 million a season, but a top Sharks official said yesterday that Steyn has still not signed with the ambitious French club.

De Villiers has already indicated that his loyalty lies with South African-based players and Steyn, if he has signed with Racing Metro, seems certain to miss out on the Lions tour.

For the moment, and if they can prove their fitness, both Pienaar and Steyn could still play against the Lions and De Villiers may well name them on Monday as part of the squad, but subject to fitness tests later in June.

Their lack of match practice, of course, is another matter entirely.

Pienaar, a retreaded scrumhalf, is still making his way in his new position at flyhalf and he needed a full season of Super 14 rugby to sharpen his play and build his confidence. Instead he had four games at the start of the Super 14 followed by seven weeks on the sidelines (strained knee ligaments) and then a tentative fortnight of action before going down with an ankle strain.

This is hardly the preparation he needs for what will be the toughest of series against the Lions and it will be a gamble to toss him straight into a high-pressure Test match.

Butch James, had he been fit, would have been a shoo-in at flyhalf, but he is out until the end of the year following knee surgery and it is the recent form of Morne Steyn that has provided the Bok selectors with the most realistic alternative. De Villiers has not been a Steyn fan — Earl Rose has always been higher up his pecking-order — as he wants a running, passing flyhalf who brings out the best in a dangerous backline. But Steyn is in compelling form at present and he could play himself into the squad with a strong showing in the Super 14 final today.

With the in-form veteran Stefan Terblanche out of favour, De Villiers could turn to the Bulls’ Zane Kirchner and his showing against the Chiefs will be closely watched today. The unpredictable Rose could again pop up while there has also been speculation that the Bok coach may shift JP Pietersen to fullback, though it has been two years since the Sharks wing last played in that position.

The Bok coach is spoilt for choice in the other position’s though a couple of leading players, among them Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger, are worryingly short of match practice.

POSSIBLE SPRINGBOK SQUAD:

Backs: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Jongi Nokwe, Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Adi Jacobs, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Ricky Januarie.

Forwards: Pierre Spies, Ryan Kankowski, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussow, Danie Rossouw, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Andries Bekker, John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Beast Mtawarira and Wian du Preez.

Weekend Witness Test team (on form and fitness if the Test was tomorrow):

Stefan Terblanche, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussow, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, John Smit (c), Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira.

• Ruan Pienaar and Schalk Burger were not considered.

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