British & Irish Lions
Du Plessis has faith in Springboks' strength
May 6, 2009
South Africa coach Carel du Plessis looks on during training, Durban, South Africa, June 20, 1997
Du Plessis was in charge of the Springboks when they last tackled the Lions in 1997 © Getty Images
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Former South Africa coach Carel du Plessis is confident that the Springboks have the strength in depth to bounce back from a string of injuries and beat the British & Irish Lions.

Stormers fullback Conrad Jantjes was yesterday ruled out for the rest of the year after breaking his leg in a Super 14 clash against the Chiefs at the weekend, while his possible replacement, Frans Steyn, has been ruled out for six to eight weeks with a knee injury. It means Springbok coach Peter de Villiers is almost certain to go into the first Test against the Lions on June 20 with a new No.15.

But Du Plessis, who was in charge of the team when the Lions last toured the country in 1997, believes the current boss should not despair. "It is a major headache for any coach to have to deal with injuries to key players," he told Business Day. "But, if you have a squad with good reserve strength and are well covered in all positions, it shouldn't be a problem.

"If injuries force you to select totally new combinations in the starting line-up, it is a bit of a hassle. Fortunately, we are well covered in the pack and the backs, it is only fly-half and full-back that is a problem, so it shouldn't be a big issue."

Following the retirement of Percy Montgomery after last year's Tri-Nations, South Africa turned to Jantjes for their year-end tour to the United Kingdom. But his absence is not a concern for Du Plessis, who believes the Bulls' Zane Kirchner and Louis Ludik from the Lions have performed adequately in the ongoing Super 14.

He continued: "There is depth at fullback in South Africa. Louis Ludik has been solid this season and Zane has had a few big games. Frans Steyn would also be an excellent choice at fullback. It would be good to have specialists at fly-half and full-back who have been with the team in the past. But, if that is not an option, Peter may have to look out for someone new."

Reflecting on the fly-half position, where De Villiers is keen on playing Ruan Pienaar - the Sharks utility-back has just returned from a six-week lay-off - Du Plessis added, "If Ruan and Frans are not 100% fit and ready, it would be wise to select other specialists in the fly-half position. Morne (Steyn) and (Peter) Grant have been consistent this season, they know the position and they have enough Super 14 experience. Maybe they could surprise at Test level.

"My choice would be the guy in form, which is Morne. He is a good kicker, solid on defence and he is not afraid to attack the line. His game has grown tremendously this season."

The Lions begin their 10-match trip with a game against a Royal XV at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace on May 30.


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