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Boks’ second-row woes

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If the Rugby Championship goes ahead in November, the Springboks could be without three of the four locks that made such a telling contribution to the World Cup triumph in Japan last year.

Franco Mostert. Picture: Muzi Ntombela BackpagePix

IF THE Rugby Championship goes ahead in November, the Springboks could be without three of the four locks that made such a telling contribution to the World Cup triumph in Japan last year.

It seems odd for Bok coach Jacques Nienaber to be sitting with a second row injury crisis without a ball having been kicked in anger in South Africa for five months, but that is the reality.

Last week, Eben Etzebeth lasted only a few minutes in Toulon’s first game back in the Top 14 before leaving the field clutching his ribs and in much discomfort; on the same weekend, across the English channel, Lood de Jager suffered yet another shoulder injury playing for Sale in the English Premiership; and a month ago RG Snyman suffered a season-ending knee injury soon into his debut for Munster in the Pro 14.

Franco Mostert is currently the only one of those World Cup locks still standing but the issue with the former Lions stalwart is that he is marooned in Japan (with Honda Heat) and has barely played rugby this year.

A major drawback around the Rugby Championship going ahead – in fact it is an acceptable deal-breaker – is that a massive Bok squad of 45 will have to travel to New Zealand in mid-October to go into a two-week quarantine before the kick-off in November, so how will Nienaber’s players get game time if the South African domestic competition is only scheduled to start on October 10?

Nienaber has to take an effective two teams with him because he won’t be allowed to fly over replacements once there because of the quarantine issue.

As far as players being match-ready, it is a big plus for the Bok coach that a number of players are getting game time in the northern hemisphere, but it doesn’t help if they are getting injured.

Nienbaer will be hoping that Etzebeth can recover but he will be seriously worried about De Jager – the 27-year-old has already had surgery on both of his shoulders and now has had a recurrence of the injury that forced him from the pitch during the World Cup final.

Fortunately, South Africa is seldom short of quality second-rowers and there is plenty of emerging talent in the country – they are just inexperienced and ring rusty.

Two names immediately in the hat are the locks that played in the friendly against Wales in Washington in 2018, Marvin Orie and Jason Jenkins, with the latter having just returned to the Bulls on loan from his Japanese club.

The Stormers pair of JD Schickerling and Salmaan Moerat are highly-rated although the former has barely played this year because of injuries. Moerat, though, was in impressive form in Super Rugby this year.

At the Sharks, Ruben van Heerden and Hyron Andrews are as hard-working as they come, while Cheetahs lock Sintu Manjezi has proved he is one for the future.

So talent at lock is not the issue for Nienaber – his main problem is that he might have to do without the experience and grit provided by stalwarts like Etzebeth, Snyman and De Jager.