South Africa’s Tri-Nations woes have continued with towering lock Andries Bekker ruled out of Saturday night’s must-win clash with the Wallabies.
The stand-out second-rower in this year’s Super 14, Bekker loomed as a likely inclusion in the Springboks pack at Suncorp Stadium before suffering a worrying back injury.
The tallest man in Test rugby, who stands at 208cm, impressed off the bench in the 31-17 loss to New Zealand in Wellington, also setting up the final try to flanker Schalk Burger.
Bekker is now under a cloud for the remainder of the tournament after undergoing scans in Brisbane on Monday.
“It is a setback but we will have to deal with it,” said coach Peter de Villiers. “It is a blow for Andries too as he was just coming back from a previous injury.”
Bekker’s loss follows the suspension of utility back Jean de Villiers for a dangerous tackle which also robs the Springboks of a possible tactical change as he was in line to switch to inside centre for Wynand Olivier.
In a sign his players needed to be freshened up following two taxing Test losses to the All Blacks, coach de Villiers cancelled Monday’s morning training session.
He conducted an extra video review session which only caused extra consternation after both Bakkies Botha and de Villiers were banned in the opening two matches.
“I’m so glad it’s only three weeks that we’re here (in Australasia) otherwise the coach would go home alone,” he said of the suspensions.
“The more you look at the video the more it becomes kind of a mystery why did we lose the (Wellington) Test. At times we played so well and things got together so nicely but then again they used their chances much better than us at certain times.”
De Villiers also rued being on the wrong side of the referee, especially at the breakdown where Richie McCaw and the NZ forwards better controlled possession quality, and the pivotal sin-binning of lock Danie Rossouw.
While Kiwi critics have panned the 2007 World Cup winners as being off the pace and tired, the coach stressed they need to be “more street smart” at the tackle area and adapt better to the referee’s interpretations.
“That is one area where the Australians are really ahead of the rest of the world,” he said.
“They’re really strong technically so they will pick up the little things and they will really work on that.”
The Wallabies expect the Springboks to follow through on de Villiers’ indications they will run the ball far more and kick less in an attempt to break their Suncorp Stadium hoodoo.
Australian assistant coach Richard Graham said the Wallabies also needed to play with width and not get drawn into a close-quarters battle with their highly-physical rivals.
“We can’t get into hand to hand combat with the Boks,” Graham said.
“We want to keep the ball in hand and we want to challenge them.”