Promising young flyhalf Curwin Bosch, No 8 Dan du Preez and fullback Warrick Gelant were on Saturday included in the 34-man Springbok squad for the start of the Rugby Championship campaign.
The 22-year-old Du Preez is the twin brother of Springbok loose forward Jean-Luc du Preez.
No 8 Warren Whiteley was withdrawn because of his groin injury, which will most likely keep him out of action for six more weeks.
Whiteley captained the Boks in the first two Tests against France and missed the final match in Johannesburg because of his groin problem, which also forced him to miss the rest of the Super Rugby campaign.
“Warren’s absence is a massive blow for the Springboks and for him personally. I really feel for him, but I am sure he will get back stronger. It gives an opportunity for another player now, and I am sure there will be very strong competition for the No 8 jersey.”
The uncapped trio of Bosch, Du Preez and Gelant, as well as experienced prop Trevor Nyakane, flank Uzair Cassiem and flyhalf Handré Pollard are the only players in the squad that were not part of the Springboks’ 3-0 Test series win over France in June.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee said he is pleased with the largely unchanged squad, which allows for greater continuity and consistency.
“Our players must be well-conditioned, match-fit and also be able to make good on-field decisions. We are also looking for continuity, experience and combinations – all elements which I believe are reflected in the current squad selection,” said Coetzee.
The Springbok group gets together on Tuesday, 8 August in Port Elizabeth to start their preparations for the 2017 campaign, which kicks off on 19 August against Argentina at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Coetzee furthermore praised the good form of the Bok players during the French series and the Super Rugby competition, which have allowed him to keep squad changes to a minimum.
“All of the Springboks who were in action in the June Tests and the latter part of the Super Rugby campaign played very well, and I have no doubt that they will bring that form with them when we assemble,” explained Coetzee.
“Some players have initially missed out on selection due to various reasons, but this squad is not cast in stone, and changes can be made as we progress through the tournament.
“I always said it must be difficult for a player to force himself into the squad, and I am really pleased that through their performances they have again earned selection to the Springbok group.”
Coetzee emphasised that the Rugby Championship will pose a different challenge to the Boks over the next two months.
“The next six contests will be completely different to what we faced against France in June,” said the Bok coach.
“We will have to work even harder to meet these tough challenges against the Pumas, Wallabies and All Blacks.
“Thorough preparation is once again crucial to our campaign, and I am therefore pleased that we could manage to work with some of the players in Stellenbosch last week as those players would have been out of action for almost a month by the time we assemble in Port Elizabeth.”
Gelant impressed for the SA ‘A’ team against the French Barbarians in June and has been performing consistently well for the Bulls this year, especially during the latter part of Super Rugby.
The 20-year old Bosch had a similar good season with the Sharks and the Junior Springboks at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
“Warrick is a good attacking player that finishes his try-scoring opportunities well. Curwin has shown a lot of promise when playing fullback and flyhalf, and has exceptional kicking abilities, while Dan has performed consistently well for the Sharks. We will introduce them to the Springbok environment, and I am looking forward to working with all three,” said Coetzee.
The inclusion of Pollard is to monitor his rehabilitation and conditioning first hand and also to assess his return to play protocol.
The 23-year-old flyhalf has earned 20 Boks caps already, but he missed the entire 2016 season because of a knee injury and saw limited Super Rugby action this year because of his ankle injury.
He attended the camp in Stellenbosch, where he took part in some training sessions and also did extra rehabilitation and fitness exercises under the supervision of the Springbok medical and conditioning team.
Meanwhile, experienced prop Tendai Mtawarira is recovering from a neck injury sustained in June.
He will however join the Bok squad in Port Elizabeth, where his return-to-play will be closely monitored and a call on his availability for selection will be made during the course of the two weeks.
“We have planned for all eventualities and replacements will only be called upon when needed,” Coetzee emphasised.
According to Coetzee, Nyakane has the ability to cover both sides of the scrum, which he has done at Test-match level already and is a bonus when touring with a smaller squad.
“Trevor has worked hard and has met conditioning targets which were set before the June series,” explained Coetzee.
Frans Steyn was not considered for selection at this time as a decision was made that it was in the player’s best interest to have a good pre-season following a prolonged layoff since June and a gruelling European season.
The Bok coach also praised the Lions for reaching the Super Rugby final, and wished their coach Johan Ackermann well with the next chapter in his coaching career.
“He can be proud of his legacy at the Lions,” said Coetzee. “However, I am looking forward to continue with the Boks’ preparation when all the players report for duty on Tuesday.”
Forwards (19): Uzair Cassiem, Lood de Jager, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Lizo Gqoboka, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Oupa Mohoje, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle.
Backs (15): Curwin Bosch, Andries Coetzee, Ross Cronjé, Damien de Allende, Warrick Gelant, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Rudy Paige, Handré Pollard, Raymond Rhule, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan, Francois Venter.