Rassie, beware battered Boks

Devin Hermanus

Returning from a month of nursing a calf problem, Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant suffered an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the tightly-contested 2019 NBA Finals. The high-profile free agent faces a year of rehab and another season working his way back to peak form, changing the dynamic of where dozens of top players may play next season.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was clearly unfit and rusty in Spurs’ Uefa Champions League final defeat against Liverpool, yet he was picked ahead of in-form Lucas Moura.

Proteas fast bowler Dale Steyn’s exit from the 2019 Cricket World Cup is just the latest example of South African teams selecting big-name players for tournaments when they aren’t 100% fit, in the hope they miraculously recover or perform to their optimum.

His departure should serve as a warning for Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and his fellow selectors against picking a player, regardless of their role, who may be carrying an injury or lacks game time ahead of rugby’s showpiece event in September.

In 1999, Bob Skinstad was chosen over Gary Teichmann for the Boks’ World Cup title defense in the UK and France. Former Bok coach Nick Mallett has admitted he made a mistake axing Teichmann – his long-time captain – to accommodate Skinstad, who was still troubled by a knee injury.

Jean de Villiers barely made the 2015 World Cup following a lengthy lay-off from a knee injury suffered in November 2014, only for the injury-cursed talisman to return home after fracturing his jaw in South Africa’s shock first-round defeat to Japan.

Siya Kolisi is currently in a race to recover from a knee injury and lead the Boks against the Wallabies on July 20, while Bok vice-captain Eben Etzebeth (broken hand) is due back mid-July.

Pieter-Steph du Toit (shoulder) and Jean-Luc du Preez (knee) are also sidelined, and Damian Willemse, Kwagga Smith and Sikhumbuzo Notshe have been ruled out for the rest of the Super Rugby season.

Tendai Mtawarira (knee), Jesse Kriel (ankle) and Warrick Gelant (shoulder) have recently returned to training, but Warren Whiteley has spent most of the Lions’ campaign battling pectoral and knee injuries.

It is no surprise any bump or bruise suffered by a Bok player while on domestic duty has increased pleas that indispensable men like Duane Vermeulen and Handré Pollard be wrapped in cotton wool until the World Cup. Giving fringe players an extended run in a shortened Rugby Championship will also help protect and rest front-line stars.

Rather worryingly is the readiness of Lood de Jager, who Erasmus was adamant last week would be in the Bok mix for the Rugby Championship. De Jager hasn’t played since undergoing shoulder surgery in March; rushing him back increases his risk of re-injury or developing a chronic problem that will lead to a longer recovery.

No sportsman wants to sit out a major match or event, but the consequences of playing hamstrung by injury can be dire.

Erasmus must make a call on the validity of selecting a potentially half-crocked Bok before they board the plane to the World Cup this year, or suffer the indignity of limping home empty-handed.

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Devin Hermanus works in the SA media industry, eats hot-cross buns all-year round, and washes and waxes his car while listening to the theme song from ‘The Karate Kid’. Follow him on Twitter: @DevinMyles11

- Devin Hermanus

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Devin, he also needs to have a close look at the recent performance of some of his shoo in Boks. Many of them have under performed and frankly do not deserve a place in the Bok side.

    You mention Duane Vermeulen for example – have a look at his SR performance and compare it to Dan Du Preez or Marcel Coetzee, or even the new lad at the Stormers! There are many others that have been in cruise mode this year – Melherbe, Louw- the Lions newbies have been really good….and so the list goes on!

    My point is that it is not just injury, but “form” as well that Erasmus should be troubling himself with!

    • Devin Hermanus

      Indeed. Class is permanent but there is no substitute for form.

  • John Comyn

    Devin, I think Rassie is very aware of the risks involved. In his time as director of WP rugby he was adamant to a point of being pedantic that the sides picked were 100% fit. AC used to drive me insane because he would tell the media a player will be available for the next game and then say the same thing about the same player for weeks. That culture remains. PSDT is probably good to go this weekend but they have risked a playoff but they want to hold him back in case they do make the playoffs.

  • Nick

    I have never known the process of selection leading up to the world cup to be as transparent and organised. From his appointment and the Washington game a while back Rassie has laid out his plans and communicated them with the public in a logical and transparent way.

    Compared to the usual it’s been a giant step forward.
    Me, I’m not worried.

    • Barry

      We are as ever hopeful Nick, but I am sorry to not be as hung ho as you are.

      We had a 50% success rate in 2018 and we had some very odd selections – our squad came predominantly from our two worst Super Rugby sides – a bit odd wouldn’t you say?

      We wait in hope that selections are a little more representative and deserving this year!

      • Herman

        I’ll second that Barry. But quite honestly world class players are few and far between this year and Rassie must still consider the transformation imperatives. I watched the U20 semi last night and all the attacking prowess shown in previous games was missing no doubt because of the ‘knockout’ factor which seems to freeze our teams up. We were quite frankly out muscled by these supposedly ‘weak’ Frenchies and we had no answer. Such a familiar pattern in SA rugby.

        So assuming our usual exit from SR in the week/s ahead, now the U20’s ( first time we haven’t reached the final since 2014 ) we remain without an ‘international’ rugby trophy since 2010. Failures in the RC and WC this year and I’m trading my computer for a box of Tiddlywinks, far more therapeutic. Cheers.

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