CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa face an anxious wait over the fitness of powerful number eight Duane Vermeulen following his ankle surgery this week, but could have a ready-made replacement in uncapped Leicester Tigers back rower Jasper Wiese.
Vermeulen is in a race to be fit for the first test against the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town on July 24, with Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber suggesting he faced anything from five to 16 weeks on the sidelines with rehabilitation.
The World Cup winner is a massive presence at the back of the scrum, with both his ball-carrying ability and work on defence, and his absence would be a big blow to the team.
It could see captain Siya Kolisi move from flank to No. 8, or the introduction of Dan de Preez or Kwagga Smith in that position. But Nienaber admits Wiese has been one of the stand-out South African players in Europe this season.
"He had an opportunity to go and play in the Premiership and he really knocked the door down on that side," Nienaber told reporters.
"He is really performing well ... We got a good look at him, he is playing in a top competition against some of the best players in the world, and I think he is handling himself quite well.
"Jasper is in an environment where he is well looked after from a conditioning and coaching point of view. And there is good communication between us and Leicester. It's always nice if that happens, if you've got that good relationship with a club."
Wiese, 25, made little impression at the Free State Cheetahs before leaving for Leicester in July last year.
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)