With the first-choice Springbok pack hit by injuries, it makes little sense for the squad for the British and Irish Lions series to be loaded with outside backs, but that’s exactly what coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus have done.
Their 46-strong Springbok squad contains eight outside backs, the most well-stocked department of all with one more player than either the loose-forwards or props.
The allocation of seven loose-forwards includes Duane Vermeulen, who suffered what looked like a serious ankle injury at the weekend, and among the six locks named for the series, two of them – Lood de Jager and RG Snyman – are still injured.
There are also two utility forwards included in Jean-Luc du Preez and Rynhardt Elstadt.
The outside backs are Aphelele Fassi, Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Yaw Penxe, Rosko Specman, Damian Willemse.
“Local derbies are like Springbok trials and when you play strength versus strength week in, week out, like the Rainbow Cup has been, then you expect a number of injuries,” Erasmus said.
“So every weekend has been quite nervous for us, fortunately there haven’t been too many injuries, but there are many niggles in the squad. We’ll have to reassess after the first couple of weeks.”
Erasmus though added the physicality of the local derbies meant the local players would be ready for the demands of Test rugby.
“But the good thing is our local players will be used to physical rugby, which will be a big part of the Lions series. The big question is when is a player 100% ready for Test rugby, when do we experiment?
“We play Georgia twice, but we have not played together since the World Cup, so we don’t want to experiment there.”
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Erasmus admitted that he was not optimistic that Vermeulen will be available for the Lions series, and the uncapped Jasper Wiese is likely to replace him at eighthman, with the World Cup winning coach saying the 25-year-old’s form for the Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership cannot be ignored.
“Duane has to be doubtful with his ankle. He’s on his way to Cape Town for scans. I spoke to Jake White (Bulls coach) and it looked bad. For Duane to limp off so early in a match is very unusual, so we are fearing the worst,” Erasmus admitted.
“But Jasper Wiese can play eighthman and we cannot ignore the form he is in, he was outstanding in the Premiership and he knocked the door down weekly. He is explosive and we’re really lucky that he’s versatile, he can play openside as well.”
In just 14 Premiership appearances, the former Free State Cheetahs player has made 701 running metres, beaten 54 defenders, has a 90% tackle success rate and has made eight line-breaks.