Durban - On Sunday afternoon, the Springboks drifted into their beachfront hotel in uMhlanga Rocks from all over South Africa, but evergreen captain Jean De Villiers was not among them, confirming that the Boks will have a new centre pairing and a new captain for their warm-up match against the World XV in Cape Town on June 7.
De Villiers has been ruled out for eight weeks with a knee injury after breaking down before the Stormers’ match against the Cheetahs at the weekend.
The 33-year-old underwent a scope on his knee on Sunday, and the prognosis was not good.
The obvious replacement for De Villiers is Sharks utility back Francois Steyn, who would dearly love a shot at the No 12 jersey he wore in the 2007 World Cup when De Villiers was injured in the first round.
Coach Heyneke Meyer’s centre pairing in the Boks’ most recent Test, the victory over France in Paris last November, was De Villiers and Jaque Fourie, and the latter has already been ruled out for possibly the entire season with an ankle injury suffered playing in Japan, so there is also a need for a new No 13.
With Fourie removed from outside centre, there are several challengers for that position.
On form, the Stormers’ Juan de Jongh probably heads a queue that includes JJ Engelbrecht, who started nine Tests in a row in the position last year before being deposed by the recalled Fourie.
Other centres on form in Super Rugby are Sharks bolter S’bura Sithole, the Bulls’ Jan Serfontein and the Stormers’ Damian de Allende, so Meyer is not short of choices.
There is no shortage of captaincy candidates in lock Victor Matfield, and hookers Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss.
Meyer has gathered the best players at his disposal (excluded are the men playing in Europe and a slew of injured stars), and the idea for the three days in Durban is for the coach to familiarise himself with the new brigade to emerge from Super Rugby – headed by youngsters such as Sithole, Stephan Lewies, Lood de Jager, Oupa Mohoje, Marnitz Boshoff, De Allende and Cornal Hendricks – and also to outline his aims and plans for the season.
Overseas players such as Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Francois Louw, Ruan Pienaar and Bakkies Botha will only come into the picture after their club commitments conclude on Saturday, and they will doubtless be in the trimmed-down squad Meyer announces next Saturday for the June Tests.
The Boks have 14 Tests ahead of them this year, and it is sensible that De Villiers is removed from the June matches against the World XV, Wales and Scotland and given the more serious engagements later this year.
With respect to the touring teams from the northern hemisphere, the matches against the All Blacks and the Wallabies are where the Boks will want to hit their straps.
The World Cup will be only a year away when the Rugby Championship builds to a climax at Ellis Park when the South Africans and New Zealanders repeat their famous showdown of October 4 last year on October 5 at the same venue, with, it is to be hoped, the championship once more at stake.
The late call-up of Lewies is just reward for a fine season by the young Sharks lock, but the bad news is that it suggests that Eben Etzebeth’s comeback may not be as soon as had been hoped, so back-up is needed.
Forwards (20): Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Cheetahs), Marcel van der Merwe (Bulls)*, Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Lood de Jager (Cheetahs)*, Victor Matfield (Bulls), Flip van der Merwe (Bulls), Heinrich Brüssow (Cheetahs), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Willem Alberts (Sharks), Jacques du Plessis (Bulls)*, Teboho Mohoje (Cheetahs)*, Duane Vermeulen (Stormers), Schalk Burger (Stormers).
Backs (16): Fourie du Preez (Suntory, Japan), Francois Hougaard (Bulls), Johan Goosen (Cheetahs), Marnitz Boshoff (Lions)*, Jean de Villiers (Stormers), Damian de Allende (Stormers)*, Jan Serfontein (Bulls), Juan de Jongh (Stormers), JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls), S’bura Sithole (Sharks)*, Frans Steyn (Sharks), Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), Bjorn Basson (Bulls), JP Pietersen (Sharks), Cornal Hendricks (Cheetahs)*, Willie le Roux (Cheetahs).
* First call-up to a Springbok squad.