No rest for battered Boks as injuries limit their options against Italy

2009-11-19 00:00

BEATEN, battered and bewildered, the world champion Springboks limp on to Udine to face a fired-up Italy this Saturday.

The Boks, after three successive losses, now have to beat both Italy and Six Nations champions Ireland the following weekend if they are to take anything positive from their European tour.

The Boks were hoping to rest overworked players against Italy this Saturday, but injury to prop CJ van der Linde (hamstring) and lock Andries Bekker (ribs) against Saracens at Wembley on Tuesday night has now limited their options.

Senior Springboks, among them Victor Matfield, John Smit and Fourie du Preez, desperately need a week’s break before the Irish Test. But with hooker Bismarck du Plessis and flank Schalk Burger already in doubt because of injury, coach Peter de Villiers will be reluctant to make sweeping changes against a strong scrummaging, enthusiastic Italian side.

There had been speculation that Smit might move from tighthead prop back to his old position at hooker to boost the scrummaging if Bismarck du Plessis is declared unfit. This would have opened the door for Van der Linde at tighthead, but it now seems that former Shark BJ Botha, rushed to Italy yesterday, could be involved on Saturday.

Assistant coach Dick Muir, who has been in charge of the midweek side, said the injuries to first Van der Linde and then Bekker had disrupted the South Africans against Saracens.

“We expected to dominate against Saracens in the scrums, but then we lost CJ early in the match. We also lost a lot of momentum when Bekker went off in the second half.”

Muir said he was disappointed that the Boks, after their strong first-half showing and an 18-6 lead, had folded in the second half at Wembley.

“I thought we had a very good first half, but Saracens put a lot of pressure on us and the things we did so well in the first half we didn’t do in the second half,” he said. “There were a couple of decisions that went against us in the second half, but they got the momentum. “I certainly believe we can redeem ourselves in the next two Test matches though.”

The former Springbok centre and coach of Saracens, Brendan Venter, had some soothing words for the South Africans.

“These players have not played or trained together enough,” he said. “But these are really good players. Individually they didn’t play badly, but how do you mould a team without any training sessions? They are basically like a Barbarians team, so I do feel for them.”

Captain on the night, loose forward Dewald Potgieter, admitted the Boks had struggled in the scrums, but said Welsh referee James Jones had been a contributing factor.

“We were so determined to improve on our performance against Leicester. I thought we started off well enough, but later the front-row forwards were coming to me saying they were confused by the referee’s calls.”

Saturday’s Test will be handled by Irish referee Alain Rolland, who has been in charge of the Boks in a number of Tests this year, and they will be hoping they can find some consistency in the way he blows the scrums and the breakdown.

The Bok midweek players now return to South Africa, while the Test squad, once they have settled on the players’ fitness, move on to Udine in Italy and then Dublin. Four players, Dewald Potgieter, Jongi Nokwe, Jean Deysel and Francois Hougaard, will join the 22 players who saw action against France, and BJ Botha for the closing fortnight of the tour.

While the Boks were gloomily contemplating another defeat, Saracens were celebrating a famous night in the club’s history.

Venter, who earlier in the week had downplayed the Wembley exercise, describing it as a marketing occasion rather than a big game of rugby, was ecstatic about the win.

“This is a night the players will never forget. It was a brilliant evening for the club.”

And particularly for one of their fans, a certain Stuart Timmer, who picked up a cheque for over R2,5 million after hitting the cross-bar with a 30 metre kick in a contest staged at half-time. He and the many Saracens supporters certainly had a night to remember.

For the Springboks, and their frustrated supporters, it was another painful evening of poor scrummaging, woeful ball retention and defeat. And, watching from afar, Italy and Ireland will have been licking their chops.

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