Following the injury to Bryan Habana at the weekend, the Springboks are looking decidedly thin in the wing department.
Habana’s absence along with long-time injury candidate Ashwin Willemse means that out and out wingers are as rare as hen’s teeth in the current Bok squad.
Habana is only expected to return to the starting line-up in three week’s time – possibly against France in Cape Town – while Willemse is unlikely to get back onto a rugby field again this year.
This wing crisis was starkly illustrated at Tuesday’s afternoon practice at Shimla Park. Only 27 of the original 45-man squad were able to train, which in itself must be a major worry for coach Jake White, but more alarmingly not one of them were recognised specialist wingers.
As the squad was put through its paces by specialist coach Anthony Eddy, the two backlines – with only six men each – featured Andre Snyman and Ruan Pienaar on the wing at one stage. Pienaar though was restored to his usual position of scrumhalf a little later – he also ran for a bit at No 10 – and Gaffie du Toit, Brent Russell and Jaque Fourie took turns on the outside.
All three have played in either the No 11 or No 14 jersey, but du Toit and Russell are considered utility backs, while Fourie’s most potent position is at outside centre.
Granted the wing situation is expected to improve by the time the Vodacom Tri-Nations swings into focus, but the potential lack of pace out wide for the Tests against Scotland (2) and France could come back to haunt the Boks. Tonderai Chavhanga, who is also a recognised wing, did not take part in training, but was spotted at the team hotel. No official news was forthcoming.
A silver lining though is that France-based Breyton Paulse has not yet joined the squad and his experience will prove invaluable in what is fast becoming a problem position. Paulse is expected to fly in after the World XV match.
On another positive note, the forwards gave the new Enforcer scrum machine a torrid working over under the expert eye of World Cup-winning prop Balie Swart.
Boks currently on the injury list: Andre Pretorius (groin), Ashwin Willemse (leg), Bakkies Botha (Achilles), BJ Botha (neck), Bryan Habana (ankle), Butch James (groin), CJ van der Linde (leg), Danie Coetzee (foot), Eddie Andrews (shoulder), Gurthro Steenkamp (wrist), Marius Joubert (hand), Pedrie Wannenburg and Wayne Julies (knee).
By Andrew Hollely, in Bloemfontein