Springboks start gearing up for ‘very big year’

22 May 2014

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will evaluate a squad of 36 players when the first national training camp of 2014 takes place in Durban from 25 to 28 May. The squad, announced earlier this week by the South African Rugby Union, includes veteran World Cup winners Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger.

On the other side of the coin, eight uncapped players were named, including S’bura Sithole of the Cell C Sharks, former South African Sevens Player of the Year Cornal Hendricks and Marnitz Boshoff from the Lions, the Toyota Cheetahs’ Lood de Jager and Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje, Marcel van der Merwe and Jacques du Plessis from the Vodacom Bulls, and Damien De Allende from the DHL Stormers.

An interesting selection was that of Cheetahs’ flank Heinrich Brussow, not so much based on his performances, which have been very good, but based on his smaller size, which is not typical of the bigger players usually favoured by Meyer.

‘Hungry for test rugby’

Discussing the selection of Matfield and Burger, Meyer said in a statement: “Victor and Schalk have been out of rugby for a long time. They’ve really been in great form recently and the fact that they have not been with the Boks for more than two years has made them hungry for test rugby yet again.

“It’s great to welcome them back into the Springbok fold and I know both of them can still add a lot of value to the team with the Rugby World Cup in 2015 looming.

“I’m also looking forward to working with Heinrich for the first time. He’s been playing very well for the Toyota Cheetahs since returning from injury and brings a lot of experience.

“However, the message to every player in this training squad is clear – everyone must accelerate in each area from the first moment we are together as a team and that inclusion in this squad is no guarantee of selection.”

Tried and tested?

With the South African Super Rugby teams, apart from the table-topping Sharks, all in the bottom half of the standings, the form shown by the country’s franchises has been lower than what would have been hoped for, leading some to speculate that Meyer could turn to the tried and tested when the first Springbok team of the year, to play the World XV on 7 June, is announced.

The coach said injuries have been a concern, but they have allowed other players to press their claims for selection. There are also a number of players in the squad who are still nursing niggles or who recently returned from long-term injuries.

“It looks like most of the guys are improving weekly and a few new players have put up their hands, which is good to see with the first match of the season, against the World XV in Cape Town, only a few weeks away,” said Meyer.

“It’s also very encouraging to see a bunch of new players emerging from Vodacom Super Rugby. This camp will provide us with a great opportunity to work with these players before the squad for the Castle Lager Incoming Series is finalised. I am looking forward to work with these players for the first time.

‘A very big year for us’

“This is a very big year for us,” he added, “and the players know they will have to step up a gear, be sharp and focused from the moment we get going in Durban.

“We have 14 very challenging matches ahead in 2014 and it’s imperative that we build on what was a good season last year.”

Eye on the 2015 Rugby World Cup

Looking at the big picture, Meyer continued: “It’s important that we start building continuity because there are just 18 matches left until the Rugby World Cup starts. But it’s just as important to recognise continuous good form. We also have a number of players struggling with injury niggles or returning from injury which we have to assess.”

Only one overseas-based players was included in the forthcoming camp. Japan- based scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who played for the Springboks in 2013, was invited to the camp in Durban as he is available for the Castle Lager Incoming Series against Wales and Scotland, as well as against the Samsung-sponsored World XV.

SPRINGBOK TRAINING SQUAD

Forwards: Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe, Heinrich Brussow, Marcell Coetzee, Siya Kolisi, Willem Alberts, Jacques du Plessis, Teboho Mohoje, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger

Backs: Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Johan Goosen, Marnitz Boshoff, Jean de Villiers, Damian De Allende, Jan Serfontein, Juan de Jongh, JJ Engelbrecht, S’bura Sithole, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Bjorn Basson, JP Pietersen, Cornal Hendricks, Willie le Roux

SAinfo reporter and SA Rugby