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'Being in Ireland, I understand' - Boks coach Nienaber sympathises with players over fire pit accident

‘Everybody does it like that over there and accidents happen,’ said the former Munster defence coach, who lived in Ireland between 2016 and 2017.

Jacques Nienaber during his Munster days in 2017.
Jacques Nienaber during his Munster days in 2017.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

SOUTH AFRICA COACH Jacques Nienaber is cautiously optimistic that Munster centre Damian de Allende and lock RG Snyman will be available for the Lions series after being burnt in a fire pit accident last weekend.

The World Cup winners suffered burns to their legs, hands and faces along with provincial teammates Mike Haley and CJ Stander.

De Allende later explained that one of the players had thrown petrol over a pit fire in Limerick, which led to a flammable can exploding.

And Nienaber, a trained physio who previously worked in a burns unit, said that unless there proved to be further complications with the players’ injuries, he expected them to join up with the squad in the coming weeks and perhaps even feature in the Springboks’ warm-up Tests against Georgia in early July.

“I spoke to both of them and they are fine, which is the most important one, and their families are fine,” Nienaber said during a virtual media conference as South Africa prepare for a Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

“Look, they are seeing the specialist which looks after their burns on Friday and if he clears them to fly, or whenever he clears them to fly, they’ll be on a plane coming back to us; bearing in mind they’ll be given a couple of days to get the logistics sorted out, booking the flight, they both have partners and Doogz (de Allende) has a small baby, so getting the logistics right and they’ll be on a plane back to us as soon as they get clear.

“Will they be able to play against Georgia? Currently, as I’m sitting here, if everything goes according to plan, yes I think they would.

“The challenge is if they get an infection or if, for instance, there’s some other medical reason they can’t fly to us as soon as possible, then obviously it makes it a little more challenging.

“So in terms of that we will have to be adaptable and it’s something, unfortunately, that we can’t control. It’s going to be determined on how quickly their wounds heal and they can get on a plane and come over here and start training again.

“Hopefully that can be anything between two and four weeks… So we will just have to wait and see but currently, sitting here, I’m very optimistic that they will be good to go.”

rg-snyman-at-the-game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Nienaber clarified that he was speaking about both Munster players’ readiness “from a burns perspective”, adding:

For RG, from his knee perspective there’s a lot of things we will have to assess when he gets here. Our selection protocols, it’s always mindset (first), second one is physical readiness and there’s a few boxes that need to get ticked there. If he ticks all those boxes then we’ll go and look at his form and if his rugby is good and he plays well then he’ll be in the mix.

Nienaber, who worked alongside Springboks director Rassie Erasmus at Munster between 2016 and 2017, said he sympathised with both Snyman and De Allende over the circumstances leading to the accident, seemingly indicating that due to the country’s wet climate, it is common practice in Ireland to pour petrol on firewood before lighting it.

“Accidents happen like that,” he said. “Any accident, a car accident, it’s not ideal but it’s not something we can control and that’s why people call it an accident.

“For me, being in Ireland, I understand. To put it in context, it rains a little bit more in Ireland than South Africa and in Ireland when I was there, if you wanted to use wood fire and braai on a wood fire or sit in front of a wood fire like we do in South Africa if you miss home a little bit, I did the same: I’d take a little bit of petrol and throw it on top of the wood and light it, otherwise the wood is wet so you can’t get it burning. So I did it the same way.

Everybody does it like that over there and accidents happen. They explained it to me and it makes perfect sense. You put fire on and the fire just ran up into the canister and the canister fell and the petrol spilled over their legs.

“But it’s superficial burns, and thank goodness for that,” Nienaber stressed. “I’ve worked as a physio in a burns unit for three years so I understand the pain. I said to them, I understand the road you guys are going to walk now and good luck with that but the burns are superficial.

“It’s very unfortunate and I feel for them. It could have been way worse and there could have been kids that caught fire. Accidents happen like that. So I’m just thankful that they’re fine and it’s not going to be lasting and they’re going to get through it.

“Is it ideal for us as the head coach? No. I would love them to be fine and to train and all that but unfortunately it’s an accident and it happened and we just have to try and now make plans to get them into the mix as quickly as possible while looking after their welfare and well-being.”

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Meanwhile, Nienaber said injured number eight Duane Vermeulen could be sidelined for “anything from five to 16 weeks” after undergoing ankle surgery on Wednesday.

duane-vermeulen-and-francois-de-klerk-speak-to-jacques-nienaber Nienaber speaking with Duane Vermeulen and Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 34-year-old forward, a pivotal figure when the Springboks won the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, hurt his ankle last weekend playing for his franchise, the Bulls.

Nienaber said there were no immediate plans to call up a replacement for Vermeulen, with in-form Jasper Wiese from Leicester Tigers one option should the veteran be ruled out.

Vermeulen put on a brave front before the surgery, saying: “I’m not sure how long it means I’m out, but I am going to do everything in my power to be ready for the Lions.”

The eagerly anticipated South Africa-Lions Tests will be played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, in Cape Town on 24 July and in Johannesburg on both 31 July and 7 August.

- © – AFP, 2021, with additional reporting by Gavan Casey

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