Twenty one elite players have all but been ruled out of the Springboks’ Tri-Nations campaign through injury.
Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen are certain not to play any role in the southern hemisphere showpiece, while the remainder of those players will be sent back to their franchises for rehabilitation, according to Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, who appeared to deeply lament the situation.
De Villiers said a final decision on their availability for the away leg of the competition will be made by Friday, but he didn’t seem optimistic about their chances of recovering. The entire group of players listed didn’t train in Cape Town on Monday, but none are ruled out of contention for the World Cup.
Others like Juan Smith, Heinrich Brüssow and Gurthrö Steenkamp, may be available at some point in the home Tests, team doctor Craig Roberts said. He added: ‘There are a number of other players who have been playing through Super Rugby with chronic injuries and need rehabilitation now to avoid the risk of the breaking down with longer term injuries in the near future.’
De Villiers said: ‘The leadership group is particularly thin. That can cause problems. But the guys that are fit will look at my body language, which has to be positive. I haven’t given up on the Tri-Nations.’
He added that the elongated Super Rugby campaign contributed to the lengthy injury list, but was quick to stress that he understood the pressure the franchise coaches were under to improve their chances of winning by picking their best players consistently.
‘I’m not blaming anyone for this situation. They have performance clauses in their contracts. But I think they’ve learnt from this season as well. We definitely can’t have a Super Rugby squad of 30. You have to have 40 and those players must all be of a good standard. How we achieve that is more complicated.’
Asked whether Vermeulen still had a chance of making the World Cup squad without having his aptitude tested at Test level, De Villiers said: ‘Duane is very unlucky. He is one of the guys I never gave a chance and now that I had my mind set on him [his body] gave up on me. We’ll assess him going forward, but if he can’t be there, he can’t be there.’
De Villiers also intimated that Zimbabwe-born Brian Mujati’s non-selection was down to his struggles to gain citizenship. ‘Brian’s situation is a boardroom decision. There are a few things that need to be attended to regarding him, non of them to do with on-field performance. If the relevant people solve the problem he could be in the mix.’
Injured players unavailable for selection for the away leg of the Tri-Nations: Duane Vermeulen (knee), Fourie du Preez (knee), Schalk Burger (thumb), Victor Matfield (calf and neck), Frans Steyn (ankle and back), Jaque Fourie (groin), Jean de Villiers (groin), BJ Botha (knee), Juan Smith (Achilles), Willem Alberts (shoulder), Bismarck du Plessis (shoulder), Andries Bekker (shoulder, groin and ankle), Jannie du Plessis (knee), Francois Louw (clavicle), Gurthrö Steenkamp (forearm), Francois Hougaard (ankle), Butch James (knee), JP Pietersen (back), Tendai Mtawarira (hamstring), Bryan Habana (shoulder), Bakkies Botha (knee).