Rugby League: Botha handed untimely injury

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

FOR AN hour yesterday the Springboks thought their captain's tour might be at an end when he hurt his left hand in a training session. This was Naas Botha's reward for trying to tackle, a facet of play for which he generally shows great reluctance.

When he left the team hotel on the desolate eastern outskirts of Beziers it was feared the hand was broken. When he returned, an X-ray had shown the injury to be no more than severe bruising, but even so it is bound to be uncomfortable when South Africa face France in the second Test at Parc des Princes on Saturday.

Now the hand, having been in ice most of yesterday, is heavily strapped, making it a handy target for any Frenchman of malicious disposition - though from the way the French have been going on about the Adri Geldenhuys punch that felled Abdel Benazzi in the first Test you would not imagine there was a dirty player left in this country.

The team for Saturday will be disclosed tonight after the Springboks' first training session in Paris, and what had been taken as the formality of re-selection en bloc has become a far more complicated process in which two of the side's senior members but not the wounded Botha are thought to be in peril.

South African thinking is based on the belief that France will pull the ponderous Springbok forwards around the field far more than they did in Lyons. Hence Wahl Bartmann, a massive presence at close quarters, could forfeit his place on the flank to the quicker though scarcely quick Piet Pretorius.

More striking, however, is the pressure on Danie Gerber. The centre is, like Botha, 34 and, also like Botha, going inexorably past his prime. His opportunism is undimimished, as his first-Test try demonstrated, but his tackling is thought to be too suspect for some selectorial tastes.

The alternative being freely discussed of switching the barn-door full-back Hugh Reece-Edwards is typical of the defensive thinking which permeates the tourists, even if the corollary of recalling Theo van Rensburg at full-back would give the Springboks more attacking alternatives if only they cared to use them.

Once the Paris match is over, the tourists' remaining week in France before moving to England will be something of a holiday. The final fixture, against the French Barbarians in Lille on Saturday week, did once look threatening but Serge Blanco's selection has been assailed by misfortune and it looks likely to end up as a very ropy combination.

The nonpareil full-back deserves better for his final farewell appearance (there have already been others). Originally Simon Poidevin, the former Wallaby flanker, accepted an invitation along with the Wales scrum-half Robert Jones, but professional commitments are likely to keep the Australian at home.

The rest of the team is made up of players with whom Blanco played, but they too have been dropping out at a steady rate.

Henri Sanz, Philippe Sella and Eric Melville are all injured; Patrice Lagisquet has only just resumed training after injury; Dominique Erbani has played one game after injury; Laurent Rodriguez is suspended but hopes the three-match ban will have been taken care of by his club's fixtures in the Du-Manoir Challenge. All of which augurs very nicely for the Springboks' au revoir to France.

Teague on double time, page 31