Jean de Villiers’ chances of leading the Springboks in the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be determined by specialist opinions he will receive over the next 24 hours on the timeline for his recovery from the fractured jaw he suffered against Argentina in Durban.
Team doctor Craig Roberts said early on Monday that although De Villiers’ knee had stood up well to his first 80 minute performance since his operation at the end of last year, his jaw injury was serious enough to keep him out of taking contact for a significant period.
With De Villiers boasting so little game time this year, that should obviously be a concern for Springbok coach Heyeneke Meyer, who has said already that he can’t afford to take too many players who are bracketed because of injury concerns to the World Cup. While De Villiers’ situation isn’t quite as concerning as that of flanker Marcell Coetzee, who now looks an unlikely starter at the World Cup because of his knee injury, the specialist opinions on when he can return to full training are going to be crucial.
The initial prognosis was that De Villiers would take four to six weeks to fully recover from his jaw fracture. Roberts said the Boks would be hoping it was closer to four as De Villiers has been out for a long time and if he can’t get game time as such he would at least require some extensive contact sessions to be able to travel to the World Cup with confidence.
“The World Cup is close at hand now so when there are six week injuries now I do start getting a bit nervous,” said Roberts.
“On Jean, we have to wait for the opinion of specialists. We have some excellent facial specialists that we’ve already consulted but there are some that we will be consulting today. So far it has been quite positive. The problem is we want to give Jean game time.”
The squad departs for England in four weeks from this coming Friday, so clearly there is now a race against time for those who are injured.
“Those are questions that have to be dealt with by the coach, but obviously when it would become difficult if you are starting to think about bracketing four or five players,” said Roberts.
The doctor said that the positive aspect of the De Villiers injury was that he would be able to continue with his conditioning and rehabilitation.
“Jean has a swollen face at the moment and has difficulty chewing. The good thing is that while we have to keep him out of contact for the four to six week period, he can take a full part in conditioning training and we can still progress with the rehab on his knee,” he said.
“It is early days to say for certain what chances Marcell has of making the World Cup, but with his kind of injury it is normally a six week time-frame in terms of being able to return to the playing field. Marcell is the injured player we are most concerned about at this point.”
Fullback Willie le Roux has also been ruled out of the Buenos Aires return against the Pumas after going over on his ankle early in the Kings Park game against those opponents.
“Willie is sore and stiff and won’t play this week but his is not a long term injury,” said Roberts.
Le Roux has played every match the Boks have played so far this year, and his absence will give the back-up fullback Patrick Lambie the chance to have a proper run. That of course is if coach Heyneke Meyer is happy to continue with Handre Pollard as his starting flyhalf after his nightmare performance in Durban.
According to Roberts, big blindside flanker Willem Alberts will definitely return to the selection frame this week, and the chances are good that Victor Matfield will also be back after suffering a hamstring strain against the Wallabies in Brisbane at the start of the Championship.