The recall to the Springbok squad of 34-year-old Bakkies Botha could see young gun Eben Etzebeth fulfil a new role for the Boks as coach Heyneke Meyer tinkers with his side ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Toulon-based Botha, with 76 Tests behind him, returns to the Boks for the first time since the 2011 World Cup, along with centre Jaque Fourie, who now plays his rugby in Japan. Both are believed to be key men for Meyer as the coach continues to build a team that will challenge the likes of New Zealand at the 2015 event in England.
Botha’s selection as No4 lock could see Etzebeth, who’s fulfilled the front of the line-out work since Botha’s departure to France, moving to the problematic No5 position for next month’s Tests against Wales, Scotland and France.
The good news for Meyer though is that young Pieter-Steph du Toit, who has featured in Bok squads before and was a stand-out player in Saturday’s Currie Cup final, has shown he is ready to step up as the country’s first choice No5.
For once, Meyer has a few options in the second row, with Flip van der Merwe comfortable at both No4 and No5. Missing out on selection are Franco van der Merwe, who made his debut against the All Blacks recently, and Juandré Kruger, who has been dropped from the squad after a poor performance last time out, against New Zealand.
“It will be great to have Bakkies, Jaque and JP (Pietersen) in the squad – all of them are really excited to play for the Springboks again; they have heaps of experience and are world-class players,” said Meyer yesterday.
“Pieter-Steph missed a large part of the season because of injury but has been exceptional since his return to the playing field last month.”
There are four uncapped players in the 32-man squad.
Western Province hooker Scarra Ntubeni effectively takes the place of Chiliboy Ralepelle, prop Frans Malherbe is back in place of Lourens Adriaanse, scrumhalf Louis Schreuder takes over from Jano Vermaak, while lock Du Toit is in place of Van der Merwe and Kruger.
There is also a recall for dynamic Western Province back Gio Aplon, while the Cheetahs’ Johan Goosen, having played just a handful of minutes recently after spending seven months on the sidelines, is the third choice No10. There was thus no room for Elton Jantjies and Demetri Catrakilis.
“Scarra’s inclusion, like that of Gio, is just reward for continuous great form,” said Meyer. “He’s still young and will learn a lot from our two front-line hookers, who both rate among the best in the world, on this tour. I want to expose him to this environment and the Springbok ethos and I’m very excited to work with him.
“And Louis has always been on our radar – he is only 23, fits in with the way we want to play and was impressive when he worked with us in June. Since then he’s established himself as first-choice at Western Province, starting in nine of their 12 Currie Cup matches, and I believe he will learn a lot on this tour, improving even more.”
Injuries to Arno Botha, Pierre Spies, Francois Hougaard and Jaco Taute meant they were not considered for selection. There was also no place in the squad for Juan de Jongh and the fit-again Frans Steyn and Schalk Burger.
The Boks get-together on Thursday and depart for Europe on Saturday evening.
Springbok Tour Squad
Backs: Zane Kirchner, Gio Aplon, Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers, Jan Serfontein, Morné Steyn, Pat Lambie, Johan Goosen, Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar, Louis Schreuder.
Forwards: Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Bakkies Botha, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Scarra Ntubeni.