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What, no Fourie du Preez?! That was the overwhelming shock when the Springbok squad of 32 players was announced last night for Saturday’s first Test against England in Durban, and the two Tests beyond that in Joburg and Port Elizabeth.
And the physical savagery of the on-going Super Rugby competition was again highlighted when new coach Heyneke Meyer was forced to name nine uncapped players in the squad unveiled at Loftus Versfeld last night at the conclusion of the Bulls versus Stormers match.
The temperamental Du Preez seemed to have the comfortable inside track to the Springbok No 9 jersey and captaincy a few short days ago when Meyer, at the conclusion of the training camp in Durban, described his meeting with the best scrumhalf at the 2007 Rugby World Cup as “very fruitful” and that the 30-year-old “was interested in the leadership”.
But on Thursday it is understood that Du Preez, who is no stranger to “fits of the vapours”, changed his mind on a variety of issues that are understood to range from unresolved insurance issues with his Japanese employers, Suntory, to personal concerns that he is not battle-ready for the challenge of starting and captaining the Boks after having played a standard of rugby in Japan that is significantly below Super Rugby.
And with Du Preez having been tipped as the captain, it is interesting that Meyer did not name a captain last night, although it highly likely it will be outside centre and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers. There is nobody else equipped to do the job.
The nine uncapped players are Sharks flank Marcell Coetzee, Bulls centre JJ Engelbrecht, Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth, Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies, Bulls lock Juandré Kruger, Cheetahs loosehead Coenie Oosthuizen, Bulls flank Jacques Potgieter, Lions lock Franco van der Merwe and Lions scrumhalf Jano Vermaak.
Jantjies and Oosthuizen have toured with the Springboks before, at the end of the season in 2010, while Van der Merwe and Vermaak have previously played for the Emerging Springboks.
Sharks captain Keegan Daniel, who played one match on last year’s end-of-year-tour, is included.
Meyer and the national selectors, Peter Jooste and Ian McIntosh, have recalled 15 members of the Rugby World Cup 2011 squad, while nine Rugby World Cup winners from 2007 remain.
The most experienced player in the squad is South Africa’s top Test try scorer Bryan Habana, with 74 caps. Six more players have played in excess of 40 Tests for South Africa.
“We were always looking to start the season with an experienced squad to face England, but injuries to certain players and the non-availability of others have made it difficult,” said Meyer.
“What we’ve lost in experience, we’ve made up for in passion and desire to play for the Springboks.
“We have put together a squad with a nice balance between a number of veterans and players with less experience as we start to build for the rest of the season.
“Working with these players during our four Planning Camps this season has been great and really made a very difficult selection process a bit easier.
“The uncapped players have all put up their hands during Super Rugby and we know they have what it takes to succeed at the highest level.”
l Six promising players have been added to the Springbok squad for the next three weeks. They are not eligible for selection but will train with the squad in Durban, Joburg and PE. They are: Siya Kolisi (flank), Arno Botha (No 8), Frans Malherbe (prop), CJ Stander (loose forward), Francois Venter (centre) and Piet van Zyl (scrumhalf).
Meyer said: “We feel that these players have what it takes to play for the Springboks and they were close to selection in the final squad. However, these three weeks provide the ideal opportunity to work with them, show them what the Springbok culture is all about and hopefully put them on the right track to play for South Africa sooner rather than later. By doing this now, we will reap the dividends going forward.
“We also rate a number of great players in the South African Under-20 squad, but they were not considered at this stage due to the fact that they are playing in a very important Junior World Championship.” - Weekend Argus