Seven uncapped players, Damian De Allende, Lood De Jager, Cornal Hendricks, Teboho Mohoje, S’bura Sithole, Marcel Van Der Merwe and Callie Visagie, have been called up to Springbok duty as part of a 36-man squad for the Castle Lager Incoming Series next month. The squad also includes experienced World Cup winners Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield, while there is a return to the Springboks for Schalk Brits, Juan De Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Lwazi Mvovo and Frans Steyn, all of whom last played Test rugby in 2012. The national selectors have also kept a great deal of continuity.
In total, 12 players who started the final Test of 2013, where the Springboks beat France in Paris for the first time in 16 years, have been retained in the squad. However, notable omissions include Springbok captain and SARU’s Player of the Year in 2013, Jean De Villiers, who is out with a knee injury, and the Young Player of the Year for the last two seasons and IRB Player of the Year nominee last year, Eben Etzebeth, who has been given more time to fully recover from the foot injury which has kept him sidelined this entire season. The Springboks will also be without one of their vice-captains, Adriaan Strauss, who has been suspended for three matches as well as the experienced Jaque Fourie, who started all three Tests last November but has been ruled out with an ankle injury and Pat Lambie, a regular member of the squad for the last two years.
“It’s never easy starting the international season without a number of key players, but it’s the same for our opponents as well and there are no excuses – we simply have to hit the ground running this week and make sure we start the season as well as possible,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, who will name the interim captain next week.
“Injuries also provide opportunities for new players and from what I’ve seen at the training camp in Durban earlier this week, they are also raring to go. Oupa Mohoje got an opportunity at the Cheetahs following injuries to Lappies Labuschagne, Philip Van Der Walt and Jean Cook, and he took his chance. At the Sharks, Stephan Lewies came in for the injured Pieter-Steph Du Toit and he came very close to inclusion in this squad. It was also wonderful to see the excitement in the more experienced players, who have tasted what Test rugby is about. Everyone knows we’re at the start of a challenging season but everyone is raring to get going,” said Meyer.
The Bok coach said that all of the uncapped players deserved their opportunity, “Damian, Cornal, Oupa, S’bura, Marcel and Callie have all been in great form recently for their various Vodacom Super Rugby franchises, while Lood was very impressive before his injury and he underlined that with a great attitude and work ethic at the Durban camp. Some of them have been on the national selectors’ radar for a bit longer, while others have been very impressive at our training camp in Durban. They all deserve their selection and now it’s up to them to make the most of it. Damian and S’bura both bring utility value to the team, as they can play in more than one position in the backline. Cornal, who was the SA Sevens Player of the Year in 2013, is very fast and has a couple of very special attributes, so we’re very excited to work with him and hopefully improve him as a player. Upfront, we’ve been very impressed with Lood and Oupa recently. Lood is a no-nonsense lock who will learn a lot from Victor and Bakkies, while Oupa is a superb line-out option, very fast and good with the ball in hand. Marcel and Callie have been part of a resurgent Bulls pack recently and their play in the set-pieces is very good. Marcel can play on both sides of the scrum, which makes him a valuable option in the squad, while he also carries the ball well and has shown he can steal ball at the breakdown. Callie brings superb line-out throwing and great scrumming power, while he is never shy to do the dirty work on the field.”
Meyer added that he is looking forward to welcoming Matfield and Burger back into the Bok fold, “Last year we saw what it meant to Bakkies, Fourie and Jaque when they returned and they showed that age should not be any measure when it comes to Test rugby – if you have the goods and can perform at world-class level, you deserve to be selected. Victor and Schalk have both been out of the game for some time and for different reasons. A year ago, Schalk’s playing future was in doubt, so it’s great to have him back in the Bok fold and I’m looking forward to working with him for the first time. Their excitement at the Durban camp was palpable, but also contagious. The younger players fed off that and I know they will add a lot of value to the squad.”
On the inclusion of Brits Meyer said, “Schalk was part of our plans from the beginning. He is one of the best hookers in the world, is one of the nominees for Heineken Cup Player of the Year and brings heaps of experience with him.” Strauss, who has been suspended for three weeks for an illegal tackle last weekend, will rejoin in the squad for the final week of the June Tests, when his suspension has ended. Injured players who were not available for selection after featuring in 2013, are De Villiers, Etzebeth, Fourie (ankle), Lambie (bicep), Frans Malherbe (concussion), Scarra Ntubeni (foot), Chiliboy Ralepelle (knee), Frik Kirsten (neck), Pieter-Steph Du Toit (knee), Franco Van Der Merwe (ankle), Arno Botha (knee), Pierre Spies (bicep), Louis Schreuder (hand) and Gio Aplon (elbow).
Juan Smith was also in the selection frame, but as he has been struggling with an injury in recent weeks, he requested the national selectors not to be considered.