Wales captain Sam Warburton must undergo immediate surgery after dislocating his right shoulder
Wales have never faced South Africa in the north-eastern city of Nelspruit, but judging by the blank they have drawn everywhere else in the land of the Springboks, they must already be fearing the worst – especially as Sam Warburton, their captain, has been ruled out of this summer's two-Test tour.
The Cardiff Blues flanker dislocated his right shoulder in last weekend's Six Nations victory over Scotland and requires immediate surgery that will put him off-limits until next season.
Leigh Halfpenny, the Blues full-back who might just be the finest goal-kicker in world rugby, is also struggling to make the trip – he too has a serious shoulder problem, suffered during the defeat by England at Twickenham 10 days ago – so Wales will be significantly understrength when they fly out in June.
The 2011 World Cup semi-finalists do not find South Africa an easy location at the best of times, having lost all 10 of their fixtures against the host nation since 1964 – by an average margin of 35-11. So the confirmation of Warburton's unavailability was grim.
At this distance, it seems likely that Justin Tipuric, the Ospreys breakaway forward, will perform Warburton's role against opponents who are rarely found wanting in the back-row department.
As for the likely vacancy at No 15, it will be fascinating to see if Warren Gatland, the head coach, hands the jersey to the gifted but marginalised James Hook, or continues to push the highly competitive Scarlets player Liam Williams up the pecking order.
Gatland wants to take as many players as the schedule will stand, hence his efforts to add a provincial fixture to the Tests in Durban and Nelspruit. There is talk of a game against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth and if that is given the go-ahead, the tour party will be well over 30 strong.
On the Premiership front, the 36-year-old Irish scrum-half Peter Stringer has agreed a one-year extension to his contract at Bath. Capped 98 times by his country and the holder of two Heineken Cup-winner's medals from his long tour of duty with Munster, he moved to the Recreation Ground 14 months ago after loan spells with Saracens and Newcastle.
"He's lost none of his enthusiasm or ability, and that makes him a real asset for us," said Mike Ford, head coach of the West Country club.Reuse content