CAPE TOWN – One of the most exciting finds of South African rugby this season, Damian Willemse, is set to be unleashed on the Rugby Championship.
Stormers flyhalf Willemse was one of three uncapped players included in the 35-man squad by coach Rassie Erasmus on Monday for the tournament that kicks off on August 18 against Argentina in Durban.
Siya Kolisi, who led the Boks to a series victory over England in June, retains the captaincy ahead of former skippers Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth, who both return to the squad from injury.
There was a surprise recall for openside flank Francois Louw – perhaps due to the unavailability of Japan-based Duane Vermeulen, who plays towards the ball – while Lwazi Mvovo earns a Bok rebirth following injuries to Sbu Nkosi and Warrick Gelant.
Lionel Mapoe’s devastating bursts at outside centre for the Lions also sees him back challenging Lukhanyo Am for the No 13 jersey.
Despite the loss of Gelant, there is no place for Curwin Bosch among the outside backs, while Damian de Allende, Lood de Jager, Trevor Nyakane and Coenie Oosthuizen weren’t considered due to injury.
Brink and Sharks flank Jean-Luc Preez will undergo medical examinations before being cleared to play.
“Eben and Warren have been out of the Bok mix for a while because of injury, so it’s very pleasing to have them back in the squad, while Malcolm (Marx) has regained his good form with the Lions since recovering from his injury,” Erasmus said in a statement.
“We saw the benefit and impact of Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk in the squad during the June internationals, and I want ‘Flo’ to perform a similar role for us.
“It is also pleasing to again add some young players who been showing good form and consistency for their franchise teams during Super Rugby.”
The Lions will join the squad on Wednesday after travelling back from Christchurch, where they lost the Super Rugby final 37-18 to the Crusaders.
The Boks will practice at Florida Park in Ravensmead on Monday afternoon at 3pm, and fans are encouraged to attend the open training session.
The squad will be in Cape Town until Friday, and reassemble in Durban on Sunday ahead of the opening Rugby Championship clash against Argentina at Kings Park next Saturday.
Forwards: Cyle Brink, Jean-Luc du Preez, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (captain), Francois Louw, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Akker van der Merwe, Marco van Staden, Warren Whiteley.
Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Ross Cronjé, Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, André Esterhuizen, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Lionel Mapoe, Lwazi Mvovo, Embrose Papier, Handré Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Damian Willemse.@ashfakmohamed