Pietersen blow, Bakkies in line for comeback

JP Pietersen will miss at least four Tests of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign, while there are other injury concerns in the camp which could see the return of Bakkies Botha.

The winger, who was in good form, broke his thumb in the Super Rugby final against the Chiefs on Saturday. Pietersen will undergo an operation on Wednesday and will be sidelined for six to eight weeks.

This means he is certain to miss the Tests against Argentina and the trip to Australasia. He could possibly return for matches against the Wallabies and All Blacks, in Pretoria and Soweto respectively.

Stormers centre Juan de Jongh has been called up to replace him. ‘We decided to pick Juan as he provides midfield cover, an area where we are perhaps a bit thin now that JP is out,’ said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. ‘JP was going to provide cover for us at outside centre, while JJ Engelbrecht and Francois Hougaard can also be used on the wing, especially as Bjorn Basson is out for another six weeks.

‘Losing JP is obviously a massive blow as he’s been playing some superb rugby lately, but Juan has also been in good form for the Stormers and was one of the unlucky players to miss out on initial selection. It’s great to have Juan involved as he brings new energy with him. This call-up just shows again that no player is ever completely out of the equation.’

Engelbrecht’s speed and size appeals to Meyer but Lwasi Mvovo is likely to start on the right wing. Hougaard will start at scrumhalf in the opener against Argentina at Newlands, with Ruan Pienaar only able to join the side from Ulster next week.

Meyer also reinforced the widely held belief that Stormers wing Gio Aplon is not in his plans. Meyer feels Aplon’s size is a liability, fearing that he would be targeted with tactical kicks. ‘We have enough cover on the wing. We can only travel with a squad of 26 and my concern is outside centre,’ he said.

Meanwhile, Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth has torn cartilage in his hip and will see a specialist in Johannesburg on Tuesday. Bakkies Botha and Franco van der Merwe have been put on notice in case of an unfavourable diagnosis for Etzebeth.

Botha last played for the Springboks in the pool stage of the 2011 World Cup. He subsequently moved to French club Toulon, but had indicated his continued availability for Test rugby prior to that move. ‘You can’t really go into the Rugby Championship with U21 players and there aren’t many No 4 locks around, so Bakkies has become an option for us,’ Meyer said.

Also on the sideline is Chiliboy Ralepelle, who is in the final stage of his rehabilitation from a knee injury. Tiaan Liebenberg and Craig Burden are on standby, with Meyer expected to take three hookers on tour. Ralepelle will be reassessed next week.

By Ryan Vrede, in Cape Town