The Ospreys flanker, who has long played understudy to Wales captain Sam Warburton, had been pencilled in to start in the two Tests against the second best nation in the world, but news of his injury has led head coach Warren Gatland to reconsider his plans.
There’s a possibility he could be ruled out of the tour by it
Wales have won just one of 27 matches against South Africa – a 29-19 win at the Millennium Stadium in 1999, but their last tour to South Africa in 2008 saw a 37-21 in Pretoria and 43-17 defeat in Bloemfontein.
Gatland has maintained that he will take the strongest squad possible on tour, but is already without Warburton, goal-kicking full-back Leigh Halfpenny, centre Scott Williams, while Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard and scrum-half Rhys Webb are also expected to miss out.
“Justin has a shoulder problem which might need some work doing at the end of the season,” Gatland said.
“It could need an operation, a shaving of some bone, and there’s a possibility he could be ruled out of the tour by it.”
Ospreys medical performance manager Chris Towers added: “Justin has an ongoing shoulder problem which, although it doesn’t impact on his playing ability, has been restricting his ability to train fully in the gym.
“He will need keyhole surgery at some point, to enable him to continue playing to his full ability. No decision had been made on timings at this stage but, whatever the decision, it will be made in full consultation with the player, and will be in his best long-term interests.”
While Warburton and Racing Métro’s Dan Lydiate have been Wales’ first-choice flankers of late, Wales aren’t short of options should the back row need reworked and Gatland could make a bold decision if he follows through on his plan to play without a natural openside flanker and switch London Wasps-bound Bradley Davies from the second row.
“We’ve got other options because I think South Africa is a team you can play against, because of the size of the players they pick in their back-row, without a specialist openside,” he added.
“We could shift Dan from blindside to openside and bring in Bradley at number six to deal with Alberts,” he added. “It’s certainly something we are exploring.”
Another option could be to switch impressive Newport Gwent Dragons number 8 Taulupe Faletau—who has been one of Wales’ stand out players this season—to flanker and risk rising Ospreys talent Dan Baker, who has impressed for his region.
Gatland could also call on more natural flanker options from the Welsh regions with former Wales U20 captain Ellis Jenkins impressing with Cardiff Blues, while Sam Lewis has also impressed with the Ospreys, but both may be too green to go up against the Springboks’ power.
Another option may be to recall former captain Ryan Jones whose versatility allows him to play on the blindside, lock or number eight, but the 33-year-old has struggled with injuries of late.
Wales begin their of South Africa with a warm-up game against Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth on 10 April before the two Tests against South Africa in Durban on 14 April and Nelspruit on 21 June.
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