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JOHANNESBURG — The news that Junior Bok flyhalf Damian Willemse is out of the World Rugby U20 Championship is a big blow for coach Chean Roux’s men. They have a critical pool C match against France coming up on Thursday and Willemse was a lynchpin for the side. But he hobbled off early in the second half of the team’s win over Ireland on Sunday. The Junior Boks need a win to secure a semi-final berth in the competition. Replacement flyhalf David Coetzer will fit in easily into the Junior Bok squad, as he provided cover for Willemse in the warm-up games at a time when Willemse had yet to be released by the Stormers. Blitzbok coach Neil Powell has bigger problems as his team goes into the final tournament of the 2017/18 World Sevens Series in Paris, needing a win and a poor performance by Fiji in order to retain the world crown. Powell is without Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez – two highly experienced players, and while their replacements, Dewald Human and Mfundo Ndhlovu are no strangers to the South African Sevens side, they only made their debuts in the past year and have not been regular players this season. – David O’Sullivan
From SA Rugby
DHL Western Province flyhalf David Coetzer and Cell C Sharks No 8 Phendulani Buthelezi will join the Junior Springboks in France on Tuesday as injury replacements for Damian Willemse and Muller du Plessis respectively.
Willemse suffered a knee injury in the team’s World Rugby U20 Championship match against Ireland on Sunday, which will sideline him for four to six weeks. Du Plessis injured a gluteal muscle in the same match, and is expected to be out for between two and four weeks.
Buthelezi and Coetzer both have Junior Springbok experience having featured in the team’s warm-up matches, with Buthelezi taking to the field in all three matches on the UK tour and against Georgia in Stellenbosch, while Coetzer played against Wales and England on tour.
With sufficient cover among the backs, as centre Rikus Pretorius and winger Sihle Njezula will return to action in the coming games, the coach opted to call up a back and forward as replacements.
“It is never good when players suffer injuries,” said Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux.
“In Damian’s case particularly, if we really had to, we could probably have strapped him and played him in one of the playoff games. But if one looks at the bigger picture, it is better for him as a player and for South African rugby that he takes a break and does proper recovery so that he can be 100% ready to play again.
“He has had a very high workload this year at a high intensity, and although his injury is a big loss, it is better that he recovers properly so that he can return to action soon.”
Roux had full faith in Coetzer and Buthelezi and said: “It is certainly a positive to gain players like David and Phendulani. They have been in SA Rugby’s Elite Player Development system for a while now, and they were with us on the UK tour, so they know exactly what to expect from us and they will slot in with ease.”
Having had time to reflect on the match against Ireland, the coach said: “I think we played in patches, but our scrums were good. We usually have a very good lineout, but for some reason it didn’t function. So there are small changes we need make and I am sure we will rectify that for the game against France.”
With the match against France kicking off at 21h00 on Thursday in Narbonne, Roux said they would adapt the training schedule in the next few days to ensure that the players could adjust accordingly.
“We have changed our programme slightly so we will be training in the evenings,” he said. “It is simply a case of resetting our clocks and I am sure everyone will adapt easily to that.”
The players will focus on recovery on Monday, and return to the training field on Tuesday to begin their preparations for the French clash.
Blitzboks suffer similar fate
Dewald Human and Mfundo Ndhlovu will replace the injured Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez in the Springbok Sevens squad for the HSBC Paris Sevens on 9-10 June at the Stade Jean Bouin in the French capital.
Afrika (hamstring) and Du Preez (shoulder) will return to South Africa for treatment. Human and Ndhlovo will fly out to France on Monday.
Human made his debut for the Blitzboks in Paris last year and captained the side to Hong Kong in March, where they won bronze.
Ndhlovu, who debuted in Hong Kong earlier this season, will join the squad as 13th player. Stedman Gans, who travelled to London as the official reserve, was promoted to the starting squad.
Afrika and Du Preez played in 61 tournaments respectively for the Blitzboks and are South Africa’s leading points’ scorers of all time. Afrika has amassed 1430 points in 318 matches for his country and Du Preez has 1162 points in 305 matches.
Senatla made a return to the Blitzboks in London after doing Vodacom Super Rugby duty and played off the bench as part of his re-integration. He scored a memorable try against Samoa on the first day at Twickenham and added his 221th try for the team against England in the Cup semi-finals on Sunday.
“Sevens is all about scoring when you have opportunities and Fiji did that better than us,” said Senatla.
“We will work on that and come back a stronger team in Paris. We would like to get another shot at them and turn the tables.
“My return to the squad was good; the coach managed me well. It was the right thing to start with Shakes (Siviwe Soyizwapi), as he is playing well this season and I was happy to play off the bench. Now the focus will be on Paris and to finish the World Series on a high.”
The Blitzboks trail Fiji by seven points and will need some luck in the running of the event in Stade Jean Bouin if they want to retain the title. They face Canada, Russia, and Scotland in Pool B of the tournament.
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