He was the controversial omission from the initial tour party, but Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis could well find himself thrust into an important role for the Springboks in the big match of the tour against England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Gavin Rich writes for SuperRugby that Du Plessis arrived here on Monday to replace his brother Bismarck. The hooker suffered what team doctor Craig Roberts referred to as a grade two hamstring injury early in Saturday’s 14-10 win over Scotland at Murrayfield last week, and Gurthro Steenkamp joined him on the flight home after going over on his ankle.
John Smit, as he did in Edinburgh, will probably move back to his regular position of hooker – although there must be an outside chance that Smit will continue at tighthead with the reserve hooker, Chiliboy Ralepelle, taking the No2 jersey. De Villiers was giving nothing away when asked about this issue on Monday.
“I must expect my players to be able to change from the way we have prepared if the circumstances change, so I then cannot be rigid in my thinking when circumstances surrounding my own plans change,” said De Villiers.
The other option open to De Villiers is to start with Brian Mujati at tighthead, so continuing with the front-row that finished the game in Edinburgh. If you consider that Du Plessis wasn’t chosen as the initial back-up prop to Smit, this might be the safest route to take from a political viewpoint.
But Mujati was listed as one of the injured players when Roberts went through the list on Monday. The bruising to the right shoulder is probably not too serious, but it may be enough to give the coaches a reason to play Mujati from the bench rather than in the starting team. The last time Du Plessis played for the Boks was in the 53-8 rout of Australia in the Tri-Nations.
It is understandable that Mujati is being developed as a tighthead for the future, but against England at Twickenham it is crucial for all of the members of the front-row to be experienced. If they are criticised by the Parliamentary Sportsfolio Committee they would have made the rod for their own backs, but the need to win on Saturday must surely see Du Plessis come into strong consideration to start.
“Maybe it will be a good thing because he is a new player with fresh ideas and fresh legs, just what we need at the moment,” said De Villiers.Tweet