Injuries rob Boks of their best
INJURY UPDATE: The loss of veteran loose forward Duane Vermeulen has robbed South Africa of the chance to field their best team against France. Jan de Koning reports.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, speaking as his team stepped up their preparations for the opening Test against France in Pretoria on Saturday, said coaches have to live with setbacks.
"You always have a vision of selecting your best possible team," Coetzee said, adding: "In reality it never happens."
Vermeulen injured his AC joint while playing for his French club, Toulon, in the Top 14 Final against Clermont - a game Toulon lost 16-22.
However, the price was more costly for the Boks than the French giants - with Vermeulen possibly out for the entire June series against the French.
Coetzee said Vermeulen is definitely out of the first Test, at Loftus Versfeld, but the full extent of the loose forward's injury will only been know once he has undergone test - which will take place after he joins up with the Boks at their training base in Pretoria.
"It is severe," Coetzee said, adding that a final cal on the length of the lay-off will only be made once the results of scans are available.
Stormers centre Damian de Allende has also been ruled out of the opening Test.
De Allende suffered a haematoma in the Super Rugby encounter between the Stormers and Sharks just over a week ago.
Lions centre Lionel Mapoe is struggling with a hamstring injury and is only returning to training this week "in a controlled environment".
Ironically Mapoe replaced Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am in the Bok squad, after Am sustained a cheekbone fracture in the Sharks' win over the Stormers in Durban in the last round of Super Rugby action involving South African teams.
Am is out of the entire June series, leaving the Boks rather thin in midfield.
The only fit players in the squad who can play centre are Bulls utility back Jessie Kriel, Bulls teammate Jan Serfontein and Fench-based utility back Frans Steyn - the latter named as a flyhalf/centre option.
With Elton Jantjies the only specialist flyhalf in the team, Steyn is most likely going to play off the bench to provide cover for both flyhalf and centre - with the Bulls combination of Serfontein and Kriel the most likely starting [air.
With Vermeulen earmarked to play blindside flank (No.7 in South Africa), the loose forwards will also face a reshuffle.
However, Coetzee said it should "not be a major disruption", as they trained with the players - who will be selected - at the training camp in Plettenberg Bay last week.
"Obviously a player like Duane comes with a massive load of experience," The coach said.
"He also has a good knowledge of the French. He is a world-class player, but I have no doubt the opportunity given to other players, they will bring it."
With captain Warren Whiteley named as No.8, it leaves the two flank positions open to Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Jaco Kriel (Lions), Teboho Mohoje (Cheetahs) and Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks).
Stormers lock Pieter-Steph du Toit can play on the blindside, but he has done so with mixed results in Super Rugby.
The specialist locks are Franco Mostert (Lions), Lodewyk de Jager (Bulls), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers) and Du Toit.
Coetzee it is not a case of simply going for a 'like-for-like' player.
"What you should look at, is the way you want to play," the coach said, adding: "You have to way up [his attributes] in the set pieces, the ball carrying, the opposition - a lot of things.
"There is no perfect fit. I have to make sure we have the best of what Duane could bring.
"We have quality players in the country. I am sure they will fit into the plan. "
By Jan de Koning, at the Springbok camp in Pretoria