CAPE TOWN – Overseas-based players Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux proved their value to South Africa over the course of the June series against England.
In the lead-up to the June Test window, SA Rugby made a bold call by opting to scrap the 30-cap eligibility ruling for overseas-based players, which provided a clear indication of coach Rassie Erasmus's desire to tap into the talent pool available abroad.
It was therefore no real surprise when Erasmus named five overseas-based stars in his initial squad, although the difficulties associated with such a decision came sharply into the spotlight when Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn had to be withdrawn at the 11th hour.
It's understood that SA Rugby and the duo's French club, Montpellier, could not come to an agreement over the players' release, although injury niggles were said to be a factor.
It is not the first time there has been difficulty in securing the release of players from French clubs, and one would think that Du Plessis is almost certain to be overlooked for the Rugby Championship now that Malcolm Marx is back to full fitness.
However, if Erasmus can receive guarantees of Steyn's availability, he may well see the value in adding the experienced utility back to the selection mix once again.
Over the course of the June Tests, Erasmus saw first-hand the value that overseas-based players can bring to a new-look Springbok squad.
Le Roux played with confidence and poise at fullback, while adding some much-needed experience and tactical smarts to an inexperienced back three.
Considering the dearth of experienced local scrumhalves, De Klerk proved to be fully deserving of his selection at No 9, with the Sale Sharks star bringing real energy and dynamism to the backline.
Up front, Vermeulen would have surely been a close contender for Player of the Series after adding a considerable physical presence to the Bok side, while also playing a key leadership role on and off the field.
De Klerk and Le Roux will surely remain in contention for the Rugby Championship, but it is a big blow for the Boks that Vermeulen has confirmed his unavailability due to club commitments.
As Erasmus looks to continue expanding his squad with the 2019 World Cup in mind, he may well consider bringing Vincent Koch and Jan Serfontein into the selection mix – fitness permitting.
Super Rugby will resume this weekend, while the Boks are set to kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina on August 25.
African News Agency (ANA)