White faces a midfield poser

With Springbok captain John Smit and star centre Jean de Villiers having returned to the training field at the weekend, Bok coach Jake White has been left with a midfield poser as he ponders his selection for the opening World Cup match – against Samoa in Paris next Sunday.

The only players who didn’t train, when the Boks wrapped up their preparations on South African soil at the weekend were flankers Schalk Burger and Juan Smith.

The two are suffering with some kind of stomach virus and also missed out on the meeting with the country’s president, Thabo Mbeki, on Saturday.

However, both are expected to be up and running once the team arrives in France on Tuesday – well ahead of the opening match against Samoa. 

Bok captain, Smit, took full part in training after having missed more than two months of action due to hamstring-related injuries.

While the medical staff remain reluctant to give full details of his condition, the fact that Smit took part in training at the weekend is already a good sign with the tournament just days away.

Smit was originally set to make his comeback in a warm-up match against Namibia last month, but was a late withdrawal when he injured the same hamstring (in a different spot) that he first damaged in the Tri-Nations match against Australia back in June.

Smit also missed the encounter with Scotland last weekend, as the Bok management nursed him back to full health.

It seems certain that White will now bring him back against Samoa.

De Villiers, who spent the past fortnight in a navy decompression chamber breathing pure oxygen to speed up the recovery of the ribs he damaged in the 105-13 rout of Namibia, also took part in training at the weekend.

However, the Bok coach seems reluctant to rush De Villiers back against Samoa and may well only unleash him against England five days later.

It appears that White is considering playing young Francois Steyn, who made his first starting appearance at inside in the 27-3 win over Scotland a week ago, in the number 12 jersey against Samoa.

Steyn did more than enough to impress the Bok coach with his form against Scotland and will now be getting a second run, ensuring the Boks have adequate back-up in the midfield if one of their stars break down.

Steyn has already appeared at fullback, wing, fly-half and now centre for his country. However, it looks like he may well be used more in midfield than out wide in the World Cup.

The other news is that Wynand Olivier, the other midfielder who has been struggling with a hamstring problem during the pre-World Cup build-up, has also fully recovered and will be considered for the Samoan outing.

Wing Akona Ndungane, the other injury concern, is also improving with every passing day after damaging his ribs and chest in the outing against Connacht during the short trip to Ireland and Scotland.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital

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