The Springboks have called Flip van der Merwe into their squad but are sweating over the fitness of Victor Matfield and Marcell Coetzee for Saturday’s clash with New Zealand.
Both players were forced to leave the field last Saturday against Australia – Matfield with a hamstring strain and Coetzee with a knock to his knee. According to Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts a call on the players’ availability in Johannesburg will only be made later in the week.
“Both are doubtful to play this weekend, but luckily neither of them are in doubt to miss the Rugby World Cup,” said Roberts on Monday.
“Jannie du Plessis and Schalk Burger also picked up knocks in Brisbane on Saturday and we will reassess them at our 1st training session of the week, on Tuesday. Apart from a lot of bumps and bruises, the rest of the squad should be fit for selection.”
The other injured players in the Springbok squad, Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Frans Steyn are not yet ready to be considered this weekend, Roberts added.
Pieter-Steph du Toit joined the squad in Johannesburg later on Monday and his progress will also be reassessed. With only 3 fit locks left in the squad, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has decided to call up the experienced Van der Merwe.
“Flip is very experienced and can cover both lock positions, so it made sense to pro-actively assess our options and bring him in,” said Meyer.
“We’ve had a great discussion and he has made himself available to play for the Springboks, which I’m very grateful for. Flip has always put his body on the line for the Boks and it will be great to have him back in the fold.”
Commenting on De Villiers, Meyer said: “The plan was never for Jean to play against Australia and New Zealand and even though Victor and Schalk are injured, we’re not going to rush him back.
Earlier the team doctor, Roberts, said that De Villiers came through his 60-minute performance for Western Province – in a Currie Cup pre-season friendly against the Pumas – “remarkably well” and may just be considered for selection in the Springbok matchday 23.
“The feedback I got was that it went really well,” Roberts said, adding: “We will see him tomorrow and unpack exactly how it went.”
Roberts said De Villiers’ possible return will be discussed in the coaches meeting.
“He was not supposed to play these 2 games (against the Wallabies and All Blacks), but the situation might change.
“That is obviously up to the coach and depending on Jean’s progress as well.”
However, after the meeting Meyer made it clear De Villiers will continue his comeback with Western Province this week.
“If Victor can’t play on Saturday, we’ll make a call on the captaincy and announce it when the team is named on Wednesday.”
Speculation now abound that Schalk Burger could be the man to lead the Springboks against the All Blacks on the weekend. Francois Louw is also mentioned as the other likely candidate to lead the Springboks into battle against the old foe on the weekend.
The good news on flanker Marcell Coetzee, who left the field with what looked like a serious knee injury, is that the injury does not appear to be as serious as first though.
Team doctor Craig Roberts confirmed on Monday that the loose forward had not injured his ligaments.
“Thankfully it looks like his ligaments are intact,” Roberts said in Johannesburg on Monday. “It looks more like a bad contusion to the quad. (But) we’ll have to do a few more tests to be sure.”
It’s unlikely that Coetzee will face the All Blacks on Saturday.