Veteran locks out for Fiji

2011-09-13 00:00

THE Springboks, stirred and shaken by the spirited Welsh on Sunday, are now facing a second-row crisis with their first-choice pairing of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha sidelined by injury.

Matfield aggravated his hamstring strain during Sunday’s excruciating 17-16 win over Wales, while Botha’s old Achilles tendon injury has flared up.

Team doctor Craig Roberts yesterday confirmed that Matfield and centre Jean de Villiers will both miss Saturday’s game against Fiji in Wellington and will need 10 days’ rehabilitation after leaving the field during the Welsh opener.

The Springboks play Namibia on September 22, but will hope to have both Matfield and De Villiers back for the final pool game against the bruising Samoans in just less than three weeks, on September 30.

“Jean de Villiers has picked up a grade one rib cartilage sprain,” Roberts said. “We anticipate he will be out for 10 days and we took him off the field more as a precaution than anything else. We didn’t want to make it a lot worse if he took another knock on the injury.

“Matfield is in a similar boat. He felt his hamstring tightening up and, with a long tournament ahead we decided to pull him off to protect that. He will also need 10 days or so to get over that.”

Botha trained in the gym with the non-playing members of the squad yesterday while the match 22 were given a day to recover. The team return to field training in Wellington today to prepare for Saturday’s game against Fiji. A decision on Botha’s future has still to be made, but there has been discussion about sending a replacement to New Zealand.

“Bakkies has got an Achilles tendon problem which hasn’t responded as well as we anticipated,” Roberts said.

With Andries Bekker, an obvious successor to Matfield, missing the World Cup because of injury, the Springboks’ second-row options are limited. The Sharks’ lineout specialist, Alistair Hargreaves, is the logical successor if Matfield does not recover over the next fortnight, but the more immediate concern is finding a suitable replacement for Bakkies Botha.

Flip van der Merwe, a number four lock, was initially next in line, but his recent form for the Blue Bulls has been unimpressive and he has become a serial offender, conceding penalties and yellow cards with gay abandon.

A former Sharks lock the two-metre-tall, 120kg Gerhard Mostert, now appears to be the leading candidate, but the French-based second-rower did not play for Stade Francais in their weekend club game.

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has a number of options in filling the gap left by Jean de Villiers at inside centre. He could stay with Butch James, who came on against against the Welsh and added some resolve to the midfield defence, or turn to young Juan de Jongh, the reserve centre in the squad.

But there is also a strong possibility that the Bok coach could switch Frans Steyn from fullback to inside centre — where he plays for his French club Racing Metro — with Pat Lambie brought in to the last line of defence.

De Villiers said the management had prepared to manage niggling injuries before the tournament.

“We always knew that what you gain in this team in terms of experience, you forfeit in terms of fitness in the week following a game,” he said. “The older you get the longer you take to get over the bumps and bruises.

“But we have a good squad here and a good medical team and the focus is on getting the players ready for when they run out on match day.”

De Villiers said the Boks will not deviate from their kicking-based game and that they struggled against the Welsh because they were not direct enough.

Their kicking was also not accurate enough because of the swirling wind, he added.

“We had just reward when we were direct [with the two tries] and I think we took it too wide on some occasions without having enough players to clean out at the breakdowns.”

But De Villiers praised the defence and pointed out that the Springboks made 178 tackles in the Test.

He also said that having a specialist goalkicker is important because of the many penalties which are being awarded around the breakdown.

The Springbok-Fiji Test is at 8 am on Saturday (SA time) and Frenchman Romain Poite will referee the game.

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