Peter de Villiers’s Springboks, struggling to come to terms with their fourth defeat in five matches and growing disillusion among their fans, have been forced to scale down on their preparation ahead of the return Test against the Wallabies, in Johannesburg on Saturday.
South Africa, following their 15-27 loss to Australia in a Tri-Nations encounter at the weekend, have a host of injury concerns and a possible suspension hanging over their heads.
Rugby 365 reports that it was the Boks’ fourth defeat in five Tri-Nations matches, meaning South Africa will finish last in the tournament and are only playing for pride.
But the battering they took in the loss in Durban at the weekend has caused the coaching staff to scale down their training schedule.
One training session, scheduled for Monday has been cancelled and another scaled down to a swimming pool session.
De Villiers will be concerned about his front rows, locks and flyhalf as he ponders the selection of the team to face the Wallabies in Johannesburg.
Already under tremendous pressure for his team selections, game plan – following the four defeats and one very fortuitous victory – De Villiers may have to bring in players from outside the current squad of 30.
The extent of the players’ injuries will only be announced on Monday.
The front row in particular could force De Villiers to look to someone like Heinke van der Merwe to take over at loosehead or to experienced World Cup Bok Jannie du Plessis, who can scrum on both sides.
Bok loosehead Tendai Mtawarira’s shoulder and the possible suspension on Monday of CJ van der Linde – who can scrum on both sides – added to the departure of BJ Botha for Ireland, must be the biggest worry for De Villiers.
At lock captain Victor Matfield is nursing a groin injury brought about by being plucked from a line-out. Bakkies Botha is still injured, and experienced World Cup Bok Johann Muller is also struggling with an injury.
At flyhalf the cupboard is really bare.
Butch James has been out of form throughout the Boks’ campaign this year. He also injured a knee on Saturday. His long history of knee injuries makes it a reasonable assumption that he might have to sit out this weekend’s game.
James’ early-season replacement in the earlier Tests, Peter Grant, is injured. So is the next in line Frans Steyn, who has a nose injury.
Percy Montgomery, on whom De Villiers would have relied against Argentina if James had been injured, will not be selected to start as pivot. De Villiers himself said so two weeks ago.
Andre Pretorius is injured and Derek Hougaard now plays for Leicestershire. Earl Rose was in the initial Bok training squad before the first Test of the year, but he may have too many rough edges. Ruan Pienaar is not being considered as a flyhalf by De Villiers.
There is also concern about JP Pietersen’s leg injury. Odwa Ndungane is the likely replacement on the wing.
The medical staff will also reveal on Monday whether Bryan Habana can play this week. If he is available, he will take over from Jongi Nokwe on the other wing.
Added to these injuries which could impact on the team selection, De Villiers has the unenviable task of motivating the Springboks for Saturday’s Test.
A win is not negotiable. Defeat would see South Africa whitewashed in their home Tri-Nations Test for the first time since the tournaments introduction in 1996.
The Bok coach have also threatened to “axe” senior members of the team in they don’t come to the party and it has become obvious they are not buying into his “expansive at whatever cost” game plan.
Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, like James, has been well below par – as has flank Juan Smith.
Ricky Januarie, who scored the match-winning try in Dunedin in South Africa’s only noteworthy Test win of the year, could be back in the starting XV.
There could also be a lively debate about the loose forwards. The balance is not right.
There are still those who honestly believe Luke Watson is an option at openside flank, despite his failure to make an impact in any of his appearances as a replacement this year.
Joe van Niekerk could return at No.8 and Schalk Burger is also certain to start – leaving Smith and Pierre Spies on tenderhooks about their positions.Tweet