It’s become something of a cliché, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has picked a good mix of youth and experience for this year’s Rugby Championship, showing faith in those who’ve been in the business for years, but also handing invitations to some promising youngsters.
Veteran performers Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Bryan Habana and Ruan Pienaar are still in the Bok fold and in line to feature at next year’s World Cup. But Meyer has also backed Teboho Mohoje, Lood de Jager, Damian de Allende, Jan Serfontein, Handré Pollard and now also Cobus Reinach.
De Allende returns to the squad, along with captain Jean de Villiers, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe and Pat Lambie, after missing out in June because of a knee injury.
Scrumhalf Reinach’s call-up is just reward for an outstanding Super Rugby season. He gets his chance following the unavailability of Fourie du Preez, who’ll miss the rest of the year through injury. Reinach follows in the footsteps of his late father, Jaco, who also donned the Bok jersey in the 1980s and early 90s. He’ll be the back-up to Pienaar and Francois Hougaard.
Schalk Burger, along with JP Pietersen – both of whom are playing club rugby in Japan – will only be available for selection later in the competition.
The other position, besides scrumhalf, which has caused a few headaches of late, that of third choice hooker, is filled by veteran No 2 Schalk Brits.
The most glaring omission from the squad is prop Coenie Oosthuizen, who up to the June Tests was backed by Meyer to be Jannie du Plessis’ back-up as tighthead prop. The Cheetahs man has, however, failed to convert successfully from the loosehead side of the scrum and will now be given time in the Currie Cup to hone his skills as a No 3. Malherbe will be the second choice tighthead in the coming weeks.
Meyer said it was great having De Villiers back in the squad.
“Victor (as captain) and Jan Serfontein (as inside centre) both did superbly well in his absence, but Jean is our captain and I’m sure he will slot back into the side without any difficulty.
The same goes for Eben, Frans and Patrick, all of whom have been part of the squad before.
“We will assess the fitness levels of all the players in the squad in Johannesburg this week. This will not only include the players who missed the June Tests because of injury, but also someone like Beast Mtawarira, who has been out of action for a while. We will deal with every player and his needs individually.”
Meyer said he was looking forward to the Rugby Championship, which kicks off next Saturday when Australia host New Zealand in Sydney and the Springboks take on Argentina at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria (kick-off 5pm).
The Springbok squad will gather in Johannesburg for a pre-competition camp from Monday to Friday this week and then again the following week in Pretoria, where they will prepare for the Test against Argentina.
“We’ve been steadily improving over the past two years, but another step-up is needed this season,” said Meyer. “It’s been a theme for us since the start of the season and we must simply keep on accelerating in the coming two months. We’ve set ourselves some goals for the Rugby Championship and we’ll have to be focused and switched on from the moment we get together in Johannesburg.”
Forwards: Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Teboho Mohoje, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield, Lood de Jager, Bakkies Botha, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Gurthro Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Schalk Brits
Backs: Willie le Roux, Pat Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (capt), Jan Serfontein, Morné Steyn, Handré Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Hougaard, Cobus Reinach
Not considered (injuries): Flip van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Arno Botha, Pierre Spies, Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez
In Japan (to be considered later): JP Pietersen and Schalk Burger
August 16: Australia v New Zealand, 12.05pm; South Africa v Argentina, 5pm
August 23: New Zealand v Australia, 9.35am; Argentina v South Africa, 9.40pm
September 6: New Zealand v Argentina, 9.35am; Australia v South Africa, 12.05pm
September 13: New Zealand v South Africa, 9.35am; Australia v Argentina, 12.05pm
September 27: South Africa v Australia, 5pm; Argentina v New Zealand, 9.10pm
October 4: South Africa v New Zealand, 5pm; Argentina v Australia, 9.10pm - Sunday Independent