Cape Town – Towering Cheetahs second-row firebrand Lood de Jager probably did enough on his debut as a substitute to warrant serious consideration for the Springbok starting XV in the second Test against Wales at Nelspruit on Saturday.
The 21-year-old played the entire second half of the mostly slick 38-16 triumph in the first encounter at Kings Park after veteran Bakkies Botha was withdrawn from the fray at the break with an apparent Achilles tendon problem.
French-based Botha, 34, has had issues with that particular form of injury before – it cut short his 2011 World Cup – and clarity on the latest mishap ought to be forthcoming, if not sooner, at Monday’s traditional medical update press briefing with team doctor Craig Roberts.
The veteran enforcer seemed reasonably chipper late on Saturday night, tweeting (@BakkiesBotha4): “(sic) Nice win for the team tonight. Body feels good. Off to Nelspruit. Blessings.”
He will have to prove his fitness ahead of the team announcement on Wednesday, and if there is the slightest doubt around his readiness, it probably makes sense to rest the 79-cap stalwart whose specialist strengths are already so well known.
Besides, should Botha sit out the second Test, coach Heyneke Meyer has a reasonably pleasant predicament in terms of the No 4 jersey, even if minus the 2007 World Cup winner.
That is because De Jager burst from the international blocks with great aplomb for his 40 minutes, using his formidable power and height to impose himself in just about every department of his lock trade against the outmuscled Welsh.
But Meyer will also be able to call on another more seasoned Test campaigner in the form of Flip van der Merwe, who was released from the Durban game to attend his brother’s wedding and is presumably back in the Bok camp in the Lowveld in preparation for the mini-series decider.
Frankly, De Jager looks well worth a start if the berth is going to be up for grabs, although the coach may take the view that his development should not be conducted too hastily, and keep him as an impact-type customer for the moment.
But he looks incredibly hungry to grab whatever opportunities come his way, as you might expect of a player who is appealingly fresh mentally – unlike several other Springboks who are somehow managing to run decently enough on reserve tanks after non-stop rugby for several weeks or even months.
De Jager, don’t forget, returned to fullest fitness at an ideal juncture in the last fortnight or so after breaking a finger at Super Rugby level for the Cheeetahs in late April.
Whatever happens in the possibly three-horse candidacy for the No 4 shirt at Mbombela Stadium, the Alberton-born rookie has stuck up his hand for long-term value to the Bok cause.
With another World Cup not much more than a year out, lock stocks look as abundant as they have ever been.
warhorses like Botha and Victor Matfield are showing plenty of ongoing lustre
and, at the opposite end of the “experience” spectrum, De Jager now joining
other gifted early twenty-somethings who ought to be strongly in the mix for
RWC 2015 in England like Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit (both currently
sidelined, but the former close to returning for the Stormers).
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing