Wasps lock on Bok standby
Wasps lock on Bok standbySHARE
The mounting injury count has forced Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer to place Wasps lock Marco Wentzel on standby for South Africa's year-end tour.
Injuries to veteran Boks Andries Bekker (fractured toe) and Ulster captain Johann Muller (who underwent surgery on a thumb injury last week) means Juandré Kruger (five Tests) and uncapped Franco van der Merwe are the leading candidates to call the Bok line-outs.
While the news on other injured stars – Bath-based like flank Francois Louw (neck), Cheetahs hooker Adriaan Strauss (knee) and Bok captain Jean de Villiers (hamstring) – were more positive, Meyer admitted he is concerned about his second row options.
Bok team doctor Craig Roberts said he spoke to Louw – who aggravated a pinched nerve in his neck – and that the openside flank should be fine to play against Ireland on November 10 if he gets through this coming weekend's Premiership game.
"We are confident that he'll be ready for us when we meet up with him over there," Roberts said of Louw – who will play for Bath against London Welsh on Sunday.
Strauss, as this website reported earlier this week, was cleared after missing the Cheetahs' promotion-relegation match against the Eastern Province Kings as a precaution.
"He had a little tweak in the muscle just above the knee and the decision was made [by the Cheetahs last Friday] to give him more time to get over that," Roberts said, adding: "He is fine and he will do full training today [Wednesday]."
As for the Bok captain, De Villiers – who missed the Currie Cup play-offs with a hamstring injury first sustained in the week before the All Black Test in Soweto – they are confident that he will be able to lead the team against Ireland in Dublin next Saturday.
"Today [Wednesday] will be his first training with us," Roberts said, adding: "He has been doing some running with the [Western] Province physios – we are happy with his progress."
However, the concerns over the second row options means the two-Test Bok, Wentzel, will be on standby for the Tests against Ireland, Scotland and England next month.
He played just two Tests, en the year-end tour in 2002, but has been stand-out performer since moving to Europe – where he has played for Benetton Treviso, Leicester Tigers, Leeds Carnegie and now London Wasps.
Meyer was asked if he would consider playing South Africa's stand-out lock, 21-year-old Eben Etzebeth at No.5 and playing burly Flip van der Merwe as his lock partner at No.4, but he felt the value of an experienced line-out caller is too important to risk such a young player in an unfamiliar role.
"In a sense you would like to have two guys who put in the hard yards and graft, especially overseas," Meyer said.
"I just believe the set pieces are so important there and with the wet conditions every single set piece is a battle. I would love to play them [Etzebeth and Van der Merwe] together, maybe from the bench.
"However, to start them is maybe not the best. Eben has been brilliant this year, maybe one of the best by far. But they haven't called a lot of line-outs.
"The amount of preparation that goes into line-outs and the competing at the line-outs, if you don't get your line-outs it is a problem.
"Just look at the Currie Cup Final, if you don't get your line-outs right you are in trouble."
He admitted No.5 is a problematical position at present – especially with veteran Bekker and Muller out injured.
"Juandré [Kruger] hasn't played a lot of Tests, Flip [Van der Merwe] is more experienced, and I do look at all the options.
"However, I do believe in those conditions we do need a specialist No.5 lock."
It does mean Lions veteran Franco van der Merwe comes into the picture.
"The difficulty is that Schalk Brits hasn't thrown to any of these jumpers once in his life.
"You will have just two sessions [with Schalk Brits], then you play the first Test. I am not a miracle worker. You can't expect, in two sessions, for Eben to play at No.5 – he'll have a new hooker, probably on the bench or starting."
Meyer admitted that another veteran, Bakkies Botha is also in the frame, but only as a No.4.
"Victor [Matfield] was the guy who organised the line-outs and Bakkies was just the enforcer. Flip has played well this year and Eben has been exceptional – so to have Bakkies there, who do you move to No.5?
"The other guy I have been looking at is [Wasps lock] Marco Wentzel.
"He is the top line-out jumper in the Premiership at the moment. I have been in contact with him and he is on standby."
Meyer described Wentzel as "brilliant" in the line-outs.
"I would love to have Bakkies in the squad. I have been thinking about how I can get him involved, because I believe he can still go two or three years.
"However, with Eben playing so well, Bakkies in not actually a guy you want on the bench. Flip is a good impact player and Bakkies is the next standby guy there [at No.4], but at No.5 I am looking at Marco Wentzel.
"We are a bit thin at No.5 and that is important in terms of organising the line-outs.
"It is unfortunate that Andries [Bekker] is out [with a fractured toe].
"You need a specialist in that position and Marco Wentzel is the leading line-out jumper in Europe. He is an experienced player and has played Test rugby.
"I had the privileged to coach him before [at Leicester Tigers] and I know what he is capable of – he is on standby if there is an injury."
By Jan de Koning