Springbok coach Allister Coetzee’s elation at his team’s 18-10 win over the Wallabies at Loftus on Saturday is likely to be short-lived as he ponders his backline stocks.
Wing Bryan Habana‚ centre Jesse Kriel and scrumhalf Rudy Paige are all in doubt for next Saturday’s final Rugby Championship test against the All Blacks at Kings Park.
Habana suffered a knock above the knee and looked in severe discomfort when he was carried off the field on a medical golf cart.
Kriel hobbled off with a hamstring injury‚ a problem he was struggling with going into the game according to the coach‚ while Paige took a huge blow to the head and will undergo stringent cognitive tests this week.
The sight of Paige staggering to his feet and collapsing again after replacement lock Kane Douglas’s knee caught the Boks scrumhalf on the side of the head was distressing.
Coetzee said that afterwards Paige was his usual chatty self in the changing room‚ but hopefully the medical staff will treat the situation seriously.
They only need to look at the complications surrounding utility back Pat Lambie to be reminded of the potential danger of head injuries. Lambie spent 13 weeks recovering from concussion following a blow in the first test against Ireland in June.
It leaves Coetzee with some issues because by the end of the Loftus clash‚ flank Jaco Kriel was operating at left wing after Francois Hougaard had to move to scrumhalf and Kriel and Habana were off.
It was not an ideal scenario and might force the coach to reconsider a six/two split between forwards and backs for the coming match against New Zealand.
Pieter-Steph du Toit also left the field with a hip-pointer injury but reports from the camp were that he would be clear to play against New Zealand.
Coetzee hailed skipper Adriaan Strauss and matchwinner Morne Steyn after the win on Saturday.
Hooker Strauss gave his best performance for the Springboks this season as they snapped a threetest losing streak that had triggered fierce public and media criticism.
Recalled flyhalf Steyn scored all the South African points from four penalties and two drop goals as the hosts survived a second-half battering before stretching a 12-10 half-time advantage.
“The value of Adriaan as a leader and as a hooker was there for all to see this evening,” Coetzee said after his record improved to four victories in eight tests since succeeding Heyneke Meyer last April.
He said the official man of the match showed great character in front of a near-capacity crowd in the 51 000-seat Loftus Versfeld stadium, where Strauss plays for the Bulls.
“Morne justified his inclusion,” Coetzee, who axed younger flyhalf Elton Jantjies after a series of below-par performances in the southern hemisphere championship, said. “He showed he is still a test match player.”
Coetzee said the Springbok defence was a source of pride after the qualifications of the assistant coach responsible for it, Chean Roux, had been questioned by the media. “Our defence was outstanding,” he said. -Additional reporting by AFP