PIETER-Steph du Toit’s injury may force Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber to make further changes to his pack ahead of the decisive third Test against the British & Irish Lions.

Du Toit left the field clutching his shoulder in the 21st minute of the second Test at Cape Town Stadium. It was a potential turning point in the game.

Du Toit was named World Rugby Player of the Year on the back of his performances at the 2019 World Cup. He overcame a potentially career-ending leg injury in 2020 to reclaim his place in the Bok team shortly before the Lions series commenced, and – unlike some of his teammates, didn’t take long to regain his titanic form.

The blindside flanker is a relentless force for the Boks, a player that never seems to tire and is never subbed for any reason other than serious injury. When he left the field midway through the first half on Saturday, South Africa may well have let their heads drop. The Lions, by comparison, would have been glad to see the back of him.

Suddenly the Boks found themselves in a situation where Kwagga Smith – an established openside flank and a useful No 8, but never a bona fide blindside option – had to fill in for Du Toit. The back-row combination of Siya Kolisi, Smith and Jasper Wiese – starting a Test for the first time – wasn’t expected to trouble the Lions at the collisions and breakdowns. A Bok pack sans Du Toit wasn’t expected to challenge the Lions at the lineout.

The Boks did surprisingly well to stay in the fight for the remainder of the first half. In the second stanza, further changes were made to the pack, with the reserves making a profound impact in areas like the breakdown and maul. The energy and indeed the problem-solving ability that was lacking in the first Test made all the difference to the outcome of the second.

Marco van Staden and Kwagga Smith – two prominent fetchers – were deployed in tandem during the latter stages for the Boks. When lock Lood de Jager entered the fray, Franco Mostert shifted to blindside flank. This combination had some success, and the Boks capitalised on the forward momentum to pile on the points via the boot of Handré Pollard.

Afterwards, Nienaber said that the Boks would wait until Du Toit has completed a full medical assessment before they make a final call on his availability. It’s a call that will influence the make-up of the Bok pack as well as the Bomb Squad – the name given to the South African reserves. It will also impact on the Boks’ plans to challenge the Lions up front and to win the decisive Test on Saturday.

Du Toit began his Test career at lock before settling at flank. While Mostert has played most of his club and Test rugby at lock, he does have the ability to contribute at blindside and offers similar options at the gainline and lineout. Nienaber may be tempted to start De Jager at No 5 this week and back Mostert on the side of the scrum.

Du Toit’s absence would force the Boks to make a change to the bench as well as the starting XV. Tououse utility forward Rynhardt Elstadt and Montpellier lock Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg would provide solid Bomb Squad options – should the South Africans persist with a six-two split on the bench. Elstadt boasts more experience than the uncapped Janse van Rensburg, and will be important if the match – and ultimately the series – is still in the balance in the second half.

The South African rugby community has been hoping that Duane Vermeulen might make an Alun Wyn Jones-style recovery from his ankle injury. The Bok No 8 recently rejoined the squad, although it remains to be seen if he will be considered for selection. 

Vermeulen was one of the team’s leaders at the 2019 World Cup, and was named Man of the Match in the final against England. His outstanding displays for the Bulls across the 2020/2021 domestic season earned him the South African Rugby Player of the Year award.

Vermeulen was expected to play a key role against the Lions before he picked up a serious injury while on club duty. At the time, the Boks coaches suggested that the No 8 might be back for the second or third Test against the Lions.

There have been calls for the versatile and experienced Marcell Coetzee – the former Ulster star who is currently playing for the Bulls – to join the Boks and bolster the back row. At this late stage of the series, however, Nienaber and Erasmus are unlikely to recruit a player who is unfamiliar with the present structures and systems.

While Vermeulen hasn't played for the Boks since 2019, he is well versed in the team plan and patterns and could be an asset to the side - if he is passed fit.