Not only have the chances of Damian de Allende making the Springbok squad to be named on Saturday night firmed considerably over the past two days, it appears he may find himself playing a quite prominent role in the June internationals.
By Gavin Rich
While Frans Steyn was the favourite to take over the No 12 jersey when it was confirmed that skipper Jean de Villiers had been ruled out of the early part of the international season, it is understood that he played through a knee injury during the Sharks’ overseas tour that may have become problematic enough to sideline him.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer didn’t want to give details of the injury list he had been hit with at the start of the three day camp, but he did confirm that the landscape had been changed in more areas than just the midfield.
“There has been a lot of planning this year but now in the space of a few hours we have had three or four players ruled out and the composition of the team that I had in my mind has had to change quite considerably,” said Meyer on Monday.
“I will let the doc speak to you (the media). There will be an update tomorrow or by the end of the camp on Wednesday. I must compliment my medical team. They are very thorough. I don’t want to mention names now, you will know that by the end of the camp. But there are a few guys who have long-term injuries and that is worrying.”
Meyer confirmed that Steyn is one of the players that he is worried about.
“Frans is struggling a bit with a knee issue. With Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie both ruled out we will have to start with a new centre combination in the June matches, but there are a lot of options at No 12. Damian de Allende has been awesome. I have always liked what I see in him, and he was man of the match in his last game.
“We also have Jan (Serfontein) in good form. JJ Engelbrecht was good for us at outside centre last year before Jaque came in for the end of year tour, and Juan de Jongh is back to his best, so we have options at outside centre too, but obviously it isn’t ideal to have two new centres playing together. We don’t have a lot of time to prepare and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to change too much from the end of year tour.”
Meyer indicated that he has been giving consideration to playing Serfontein and De Allende, who have both played most of their top rugby at inside centre, together in the midfield.
“I think Damian and Jan can play together, although with the way the system works, it will be difficult as I only worked with Damian for the first time today. And we just did the basics. But I had a chat with Damian last night and he told me he played No 13 at school. He definitely has the build for it. I like big centres in the mould of Jaque Fourie.
“I was pleased to hear he can play 13 because I have only seen him play No 12 and on the wing. I would like to look at some stage at Jan and Damian as a combination. It is definitely an option. They are both young and exciting players.”
Obviously De Allende would have to work overtime at getting used to the defensive system, something that is crucial for an outside centre, but then Engelbrecht, who played most of his early rugby on the wing, had some defensive deficiencies exposed last year, particularly in the final Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks.
Meyer gets an opportunity to experiment in the first game of the year against the World XV at Newlands on Saturday week, but he said he faced a catch-22 when considering his selection options.
“I know I have to experiment in some positions but we also have to be ready for the series against Wales, which starts the following week and will be tough. There isn’t much time to prepare,” he said.
“The one thing I have learned in this job is that although you must always think about the future, you also need to win the next game.”
Meyer said he could see some positives in being forced to look outside his tried and tested group of players, as an injury could easily happen at next year’s World Cup that will force him to field a player that builds experience now in the period when a star player is absent.
However, he said he would prefer players to take a break during Super Rugby as he has a limited amount of time to prepare the team for the World Cup in 2015.
“You always think it is a long time because it seems far away, but I got a fright when I realised that we only have four games next year before we go into the World Cup. We have three Rugby Championship games and one other and then it is the World Cup. So while there is always a positive to be found, I would rather have the guys take a break during Super Rugby.
“A Super Rugby coach has about 18 weeks before the first friendly of the year. We haven’t worked with the guys all year and now we have only a few days to work with them before the international matches. I can’t blame anyone, but I always worried that Jean (de Villiers) might break down some time because he has played so much rugby and he always gives 100 per cent.
“At the same time though I know how important Jean is for our World Cup campaign so I would rather he break down now than just before the World Cup. It is better for him to be out now than to be out then.”