Johannesburg — South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber on Saturday slammed suggestions that one of the 33 players chosen for the Rugby World Cup would fake an injury in order to include ace fly-half Handre Pollard as a late replacement.
Pollard, a mainstay of the 2019 World Cup triumph in Japan, was a shock omission from the Springboks’ squad for France as he is not fully fit after a calf injury.
Fellow World Cup winners, centre Lukhanyo Am (knee) and lock Lood de Jager (chest ailment) were also ruled out of the September 8-October 28 tournament.
All three are scheduled to leave Johannesburg with the World Cup squad on Saturday as the Springboks continue preparations for their title defence.
The reigning champions play warm-up matches against Wales in Cardiff on August 19 and New Zealand in London on August 25.
Nienaber told a press conference at a Johannesburg airport that “There are lots of rumours about our injured players.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was adamant about the conspiracy theories surrounding Handre Pollard this morning
“how can you pick a guy in the World Cup squad – if you have a heart – and then tell him to fake an injury. I mean, that’s mad. We will never do that.”
— Brenden Nel (@Brendennel) August 12, 2023
“But if you have a heart, how do you pick a guy and then tell him to fake an injury and get the other guy in? We would never do that.”
“We have not given our squad to World Rugby yet – that only has to be in on August 21 – but I’m not sure other teams have either.
“We are all playing warm-up games and history tells you that you normally lose one or two players.
“But if there are no more injuries, then the 33-man squad that we have named will be going to the World Cup.
’20-25 percent readiness’
“Handre is over his injury, but has only had two training sessions and is still on his way back after not playing for 16 weeks.
“He is probably at 20-25 percent readiness and if we had to push him to 80% now there would be a 90% risk of losing him in a couple of weeks.
“For him to play right now would be like asking him to run a 90 kilometre (56 miles) ultra-marathon in three weeks time, but with only 10 km a week of training.
“The stand-ins (for injured players) have not done too badly,” said Nienaber, referring to the recent Rugby Championship, where South Africa finished second behind New Zealand.
“We have lost only three of our last 10 Tests. Imagine how they (stand-ins) feel when everyone is focused on the negative and worrying about them playing.
“It’s not all doom and gloom and we as coaches are certainly not writing off the World Cup — that is why we have been building depth,” Nienaber said.
🗣️ “Handre needs to now be able to go through the demands of a Test match week.”
🗣️ “He and Lukhanyo both will have the potential maybe to be fit and ready to go for Scotland.”
Jacques Nienaber’s update on the fitness situation of Pollard and Am. pic.twitter.com/RvzN9PSbRh
— SuperSport Rugby (@SSRugby) August 11, 2023
Manie Libbok, creative with ball in hand but an erratic goal-kicker, is the likely replacement for Pollard while experienced Jesse Kriel could take over from Am at outside centre.
RG Strydom seems the obvious choice to replace lock De Jager.
Springboks captain and flanker Siya Kolisi, out of action since April with a knee injury, is confident of being fit for their opening World Cup Pool B match, against Scotland in Marseille on September 10.
“I’m not thinking about my knee, which is the most important thing. Fitness comes, and in our last training session, things became a little heated, in a good way, and I just got stuck in, which was a good sign,” he told the press conference.
“I’m over the injury – it’s now just about getting as many minutes as possible on the field. If I have those small voices in my head then I won’t be able to lead, but I’m not worried.”
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