Durban – Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has emphasised that the door is not closed on Marcell Coetzee and Aphelele Fassi, the two players who were axed from his squad to make way for returning veterans Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn.
Coetzee had a solid game in the second Test against Wales while Fassi was a touch hesitant on defence, which probably counted against him because in the same game his rival, Kurt-Lee Arendse, was tenacious in that department.
“Aphelele and Marcell are unfortunate,” Nienaber said. “They served the team well. They understood their roles and off-field responsibilities and did that top-notch.
“On-field, we have performance analysis after every game and that is shared with the players.
“It’s not my place to discuss their performance assessment with the public. They know exactly where they are at and can talk about it if they want to.
“I am confident that they know where their gaps are and what we want them to work on. I told both players that it’s not goodbye. If there is another injury in the outside backs or another couple of injuries at loose forward, they will slot straight in.”
There is good and bad news regarding the veteran pair that came in for Fassi and Coetzee, with Vermuelen unlikely to feature in the two games against the All Blacks but Steyn could well take his place in the Bomb Squad for the August 6 Rugby Championship opener against the Kiwis.
“We got them in (Vermeulen and Steyn) to have a look at them, Nienaber explained. “They have been busy with rehab and we wanted to have a good look at them under our medical staff, to see where they are at.
“In order to be available for selection, a player must handle the week’s load. We are only on Wednesday. We have another training session on Friday before next week.
“Duane hasn’t had a rugby session yet, so I think it would be tough to get him in the mix. He is still busy with his return-to-play rehab sessions.”
Steyn injured his hamstring playing for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup some time ago and is significantly further along in his recovery than Vermeulen.
“Frans has been training with us,” Nienaber said.
“And he did last week’s pre-season training with the Cheetahs. So, he already has one week of pre-season under the belt and he will have this whole week with us.”
Nienaber was asked what he expected from the hurting All Blacks.
“If we were to lose two games in a row, we’d be under immense pressure too,” he reflected.
“The All Blacks will be desperate, but to be fair, the All Blacks are always desperate. They have a lot to play for, just like us.
“They’re playing for their nation, just like we do. We try to keep things realistic by focusing on what we can control.
“We can’t control how desperate they might be and what measures they have implemented to assist with that objective. We focus on our prep.”