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