As the full facts behind the head injury suffered by Will Greenwood in Bloemfontein on Tuesday night finally emerged, it became clear that the Lions - not to mention rugby at large - had come perilously close to tragedy. For one horrendous moment as Greenwood lay prone at the Free State Stadium, doctors treating the Leicester centre feared for his life.
"Will is a very, very lucky young man," said Fran Cotton, the Lions' manager, yesterday. "Had it not been for the immediacy and quality of the medical help he received, well, God only knows what might have happened. He was unconscious when our doctor reached him and he was still unconscious when he was stretchered off. It was an extremely worrying incident."
Greenwood crashed head first into the unyielding high veld turf following a heavy tackle by Jaco Coetzee and lost consciousness instantly. He spent Tuesday night in a Bloemfontein hospital but had sufficiently recovered by yesterday morning to fly back to Durban with James Robson, the Lions' doctor. He has serious concussion and a dislocated shoulder joint and has been told to avoid all contact sport for two months. He may, however, stay with the squad until the end of the tour.
The Lions will decide over the next 24 hours whether to call for a replacement, but their more urgent concerns surround the immediate future of the talismanic Evans. The veteran Llanelli wing aggravated a groin condition in training yesterday, definitely misses the weekend hostilities at King's Park and will almost certainly join Greenwood in bowing out of the remainder of the programme. Jeremy Davidson, the fast-developing Irish lock forward who played such an effective hand is last Saturday's first Test victory at Newlands, is also under treatment for a shin problem.
John Bentley would appear to be an obvious replacement for Evans; the Newcastle wing's hat-trick of tries against Free State established him as the most prolific strike runner on tour and his deeply competitive character would make him a valuable commodity amid the fire and fury of Saturday's occasion. However, Allan Bateman's high-class displays in midfield must also have come into the equation as the selectors chewed the fat last night.
Whatever they come up with later today, it is unlikely to be as radical as the Springbok selection for the do-or-die showdown in two days time. Carel du Plessis, the much-maligned South African coach, recalled Danie van Schalkwyk, the Northern Transvaal centre who put two tries past the Lions in Pretoria almost three weeks ago, and awarded first caps to two versatile Western Province backs, Percy Montgomery and Pieter Rossouw. He also switched Andre Snyman from left wing to right to enable Rossouw, a full-back by breeding, to play on his favoured flank.
Given the injuries to Edrich Lubbe and Japie Mulder, van Schalkwyk's promotion surprised no-one; he played effectively against the All Blacks last summer and but for injury would have featured in du Plessis' original squad. The shockwaves surrounded Montgomery, who has already faced the tourists twice on this tour without giving them the heebee-geebees.
Most Springbok pundits favoured either a move inside for Snyman, which would have allowed him to resume his provincial midfield partnership with van Schalkwyk, or, better still, a call-up for the 1995 World Cup hero Hennie le Roux. Du Plessis insisted yesterday that le Roux was carrying an injury and was therefore not available, but suspicions are rife that the Gauteng playmaker's continued absence from the Springbok side has more to do with his ability to upset the wrong people at the top end of South African rugby's power structure.
SOUTH AFRICA (v British Isles, Durban, Saturday): A Joubert (Natal); A Snyman (Northern Transvaal), P Montgomery (Western Province), D van Schalkwyk (Northern Transvaal), P Rossouw (Western Province); H Honiball (Natal), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); P du Randt (Free State), N Drotske (Free State), A Garvey (Natal), H Strydom (Gauteng), M Andrews (Natal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal, capt), A Venter (Free State). Replacements: R Bennett (Border), B Wessels (Griqualand West), W Swanepoel (Free State), F van Heerden (Western Province), J Dalton (Gauteng), D Theron (Griqualand West).
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