Johannesburg – World champions Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger are included in a 36-man Springbok training squad, announced by the South African Rugby Union on Monday.
“Victor and Schalk have been out of rugby for a long time. They've really been in great form recently and the fact that they have not been with the Boks for more than two years, has made them hungry for Test rugby yet again,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said in a statement.
“It's great to welcome them back into the Springbok fold and I know both of them can still add a lot of value to the team with the Rugby World Cup in 2015 looming.”
Sharks back S'bura Sithole and Cornal Hendricks, the SA Sevens Player of the Year in 2013, are two of eight uncapped players in the squad who will attend a four-day national training camp in Durban from Sunday.
The other uncapped players are the Cheetahs duo of Lood de Jager (lock) and Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje (loose forward), Bulls players Marcel van der Merwe (prop) and Jacques du Plessis (flank/lock), Marnitz Boshoff (flyhalf) of the Lions and the Stormers' Damian De Allende (centre/wing).
They will join Matfield, Burger and Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Brüssow, back in the national set up for the first time since the last Rugby World Cup in 2011.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said he was happy with the form of a number of the country's top players and the uncapped players who have grabbed their chance this season.
“I'm also looking forward to working with Heinrich for the first time. He's been playing very well for the Toyota Cheetahs since returning from injury and brings a lot of experience.
“However, the message to every player in this training squad is clear – everyone must accelerate in each area from the first moment we are together as a team and that inclusion in this squad is no guarantee of selection.”
Meyer said injuries had been a concern but they had allowed other players to press their claims.
“It looks like most of the guys are improving weekly and a few new players have put up their hands, which is good to see with the first match of the season, against the World XV in Cape Town, only a few weeks away.
“It's also very encouraging to see a bunch of new players emerging from Vodacom Super Rugby. This camp will provide us with a great opportunity to work with these players before the squad for the Castle Lager Incoming Series is finalised.
“This is a very big year for us and the players know they will have to step up a gear, be sharp and focused from the moment we get going in Durban. We have 14 very challenging matches ahead in 2014
and it's imperative that we build on what was a good season last year.”
Meyer said it was important to start building continuity as there were just 18 matches left until the Rugby World Cup started.
Players based in France, England and Ireland were not considered for this camp as most of them were still playing for their respective clubs.
However, the experienced Fourie du Preez playing in Japan, who played for the Springboks in 2013, had been invited to the camp as he would be available for the incoming series in June against Wales, Scotland and the World XV.
The players assemble in Durban on Sunday morning and return to their franchises on Wednesday morning.
“We have a good working relationship with our local franchises and we have to thank them, as well as Suntory in Japan, for allowing their players to attend this camp,” said Meyer.
Players who were involved with the Springboks last year, but were not considered for selection because of medium to long-term injuries, were 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), Pat Lambie (bicep), Gio Aplon (elbow) and Jaque Fourie, who could potentially miss the entire Test season because of an ankle injury.
The 36-man Springbok training squad: Forwards (20): Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe*, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager*, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe, Heinrich Brüssow, Marcell Coetzee, Siya Kolisi, Willem Alberts, Jacques du Plessis*, Teboho Mohoje*, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger.
Backs (16): Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Johan Goosen, Marnitz Boshoff*, Jean de Villiers, Damian De Allende*, Jan Serfontein, Juan de Jongh, JJ Engelbrecht, S'bura Sithole*, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Bjorn Basson, JP Pietersen, Cornal Hendricks*, Willie le Roux.
* - Uncapped at Test level. – Sapa