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Bok starters Van der Merwe, Engelbrecht doubtful

September 23, 2013

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s medical team is hopeful that starters Flip van der Merwe and JJ Engelbrecht shake off niggling injuries ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship test against Australia.

Lock Van der Merwe has a hamstring injury and center Engelbrecht a thigh problem, the South African Rugby Union said on Monday. Reserve prop Gurthro Steenkamp is struggling with a shoulder knock.

While Springboks doctor Craig Roberts said none of the injuries were serious, coach Heyneke Meyer called up 21-year-old second-rower Pieter-Steph du Toit and center Juan de Jongh over the weekend as cover.

“Gurthro and JJ trained with the squad on Monday morning, although they did not do the entire session,” Roberts said. “Flip didn’t train on Monday, but he’s already improved a lot since the match in Auckland and we’ll give him all the time he needs to fully recover.”

Van der Merwe was injured in South Africa’s 29-15 loss to New Zealand at Eden Park on Sept. 14, a defeat that caused much discontent among fans and pundits in South Africa after hooker Bismarck du Plessis’ contentious red card left the Boks to play most of the second half with 14 men.

South Africa now trails the defending champion All Blacks by four points in the championship with two rounds to go and a possible decider between the contenders in Johannesburg on Oct. 5.

Australia, meanwhile, beat Argentina 14-13 in its last game for a first win in this year’s competition and was further boosted ahead of the Wallabies’ planned arrival in Cape Town on Monday by expectations that captain James Horwill will be fit to return to the lineup. Lock Horwill also has been out with a hamstring injury but has traveled for games in South Africa and Argentina.

“I don’t think anyone is going to back us to win these next two games but there is a terrific opportunity to continue to improve and surprise a few people,” said new Australia coach Ewen McKenzie, who began with three straight defeats.

In South Africa’s camp, Van der Merwe’s injury puts the promising but uncapped Du Toit in contention for a place in the matchday squad with only four specialist locks in the current Springboks group. The youngster has already built a reputation as a player with great promise and was first called up in June before having to withdraw from that squad with injury.

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Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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