Springbok greats Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn have been included in South Africa’s squad for their opening Rugby Championship games.
Number eight Vermeulen underwent successful knee surgery following the United Rugby Championship season, while versatile back Steyn has been nursing a hamstring issue as both players missed the recent Test series win against Wales on home soil.
Superstar wing Cheslin Kolbe has been left out of the 41-man squad after sustaining a fractured jaw in the third Test against Wales in Cape Town.
Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee and Sharks outside back Aphelele Fassi have both been sent back to their respective clubs, where they will be on stand-by and will be continuously monitored by the Springboks coaching team.
“It is disappointing for Aphelele and Marcell, but we were limited in how many players we could select. That said, we know what both of them can do on the field and we have a big picture in mind with the Rugby World Cup next year,” said head coach Jacques Nienaber.
“We will continue to keep a close eye on them at their provinces as well as all the other players on our radar that were not selected in this group.”
The world champions’ first assignment in the Rugby Championship is two consecutive games against the All Blacks in Nelspruit on Saturday, August 6 and Johannesburg on Saturday, August 13.
Springboks head coach Nienaber was happy with how the squad performed during the Wales series and opted for continuity in selection.
“We are pleased with the enthusiasm and attitude the new players showed in the squad during the Incoming Series, and we feel that this group well worked together throughout the campaign and that we have good cover in all positions, so we opted to keep the majority of the group together for the home leg of Rugby Championship campaign,” said Nienaber.
“We will reassess the size of the squad for our tour to Australia and Argentina in the next few weeks.
“Duane and Frans are both very experienced players and they each have valuable traits that they bring to the field of play, so we are excited to welcome them into the fold. This will offer the coaches and medical staff a good opportunity to determine where they are in terms of their rugby.”
The tactician expects a different challenge during the Rugby Championship, and there is a big focus on starting the competition well.
“New Zealand, Australia and Argentina will pose different challenges to Wales, and we realise the importance of hitting the ground running in the first two Tests,” he added.
“We will enter the competition with a series win against Wales, which will give us a little confidence, especially after the way we played in the deciding Test against Wales, but back-to-back matches against the All Blacks is a completely different challenge, and we know that they will come here wanting to make amends for losing their last two matches against Ireland.
“The way we perform in those Tests will set the tone for the rest of the competition, which will be equally tough with three matches on tour before playing our final fixture in Durban, but we plan to approach this series one match at a time and to work as hard as possible to get the desired results and to continue to build and gel even stronger as a squad.”
South Africa squad for opening Rugby Championship games
Forwards: Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Salmaan Moerat, Ruan Nortje, Marvin Orie, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Elrigh Louw, Evan Roos, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Deon Fourie, Franco Mostert
Backs: Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Herschel Jantjies, Grant Williams, Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen, Jesse Kriel, Warrick Gelant, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Frans Steyn, Damian Willemse