Are Jean de Villiers and Marcel Coetzee in doubt for the Rugby World Cup ?

The question could not have been put straighter to Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts: “Is Jean de Villiers in doubt for the Rugby World Cup?”

The 34-year-old’s return to the Test arena after eight months of painful rehabilitation from a potentially career ending knee injury could not have ended worse at Kings Park. He saw out the game nursing a fractured jaw – there were no subs left on the bench to replace him – and his team had been humiliated by Argentina.

Could there have been a greater antithesis of a fairytale comeback?!

“The answer is that Jean is likely to be ready for the World Cup,” Roberts said. “We have been consulting facial experts across the country since Saturday night and the general prognosis from the best in this field is that he can recover to take contact in approximately four to six weeks,” Roberts said.

“I have to take my head off to Jean. He chose to play out that game with a crack in his jaw which we later found to be a fracture because there was nobody left to take his place. We did not know the extent of the injury at the time. He showed huge courage.”

It is the story of De Villiers’ career. He has continually fought crippling injury setbacks since the day he seriously crocked his knee minutes into his debut for the Boks way back in 2002 in Marseilles.

But is this one injury to many for the veteran? Knowing De Villiers, he will not give up now, so close to his dream of winning the World Cup, even if means he has to continue his comeback in the Pool games at the World Cup.

“His jaw is swollen. He is on a ‘soft’ diet and is battling to chew on one side, and he will continue to have the best possible evaluation of the injury,” Roberts said. “The good news is that it won’t be long before he can continue with fitness training and his knee continues to show no ill effects, and we can continue with rehab on his knee. Obviously he cannot get game time or take contact in training for some time but we are positive about his chances of going to the World Cup.”

Possibly worse off is flank Marcell Coetzee, another major casualty from the defeat to the Pumas. He suffered a grade two medial ligament injury to the knee and will be off his feet for six weeks, ruling him out of the first-round match against Japan, at least, which is in 39 days time.

“Marcell is a big concern for us,” Roberts admitted. “It is a race against time for him now. Once you pass the six-week threshold to the start of the World Cup, the medical team get nervous. We are doing everything we can but we are at that stage where the time frame closes by the day.”

Fullback Willie le Roux sprained his ankle at the weekend and although he played out the game, he was in considerable discomfort yesterday and will not be available for Saturday’s return match against the Pumas in Buenos Aries.

On the positive side, Roberts confirmed that flank Willem Alberts, scrumhalf, Fourie du Preez, and props Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff had been cleared for selection.

by Mike Greenaway

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