Springbok coach Jake White has made several surprise selections in his 45-man Bok squad announced on Saturday at Newlands.
Five players have earned a first call-up to national duty: scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, tighthead prop BJ Botha, lock Johan Muller (all Sharks), centre Wynand Olivier (Blue Bulls) and Western Province lock Andries Bekker.
Other interesting selections included newly fit-again Sharks No 10 Butch James and fellow Sharks team-mate Deon Carstens (prop). It is clearly a ringing endorsement for the Sharks front-row that all three have been rewarded with a place in Bloem. John Smit is again the skipper and quite possibly the form hooker in the country at the moment too. That debate seems to have died a quiet death.
There was also space for former Bulls hooker Danie Coetzee, who currently plays for London Irish. Cheetahs veteran utility back Gaffie du Toit also got the nod. And the man Jake has endorsed as his back-up captain, the Cats’ Wikus van Heerden has recovered from injury and will join the rest of the Boks in Bloem.
There was, however, no place for Stormers duo Schalk Brits and Luke Watson in the enlarged squad. White again preferred Solly Tyibilika to the former SA Schools captain, although that came as little surprise as White had already publicly said he would not pick them. Although he had originally included BJ Botha in that group, but obviously sheer form from the soon-to-be-married prop persuaded White and co.
Players not considered for selection due to injury include Blue Bulls prop Guthro Steenkamp and Lions wing Ashwin Willemse. The players will assemble this Wednesday in Bloemfontein for a pre-season training camp of three weeks, afterwhich the squad will be trimmed for the Vodacom Incoming Tests against Scotland (two) and France (one) in June.
Blue Bulls wing-turned-flank Pierre Spies has been invited to the camp to undergo medical and fitness testing, while Cheetahs flyhalf Meyer Bosman will be released from camp on completion of testing in order to join the SA U21 team in preparation for the upcoming IRB U21 World Championships in France.
Comment from Saru president, Oregan Hoskins:
“The extended Springbok squad represents the very best of our proud rugby talent in South Africa. I want to commend the national selectors, who have managed to capture both experience and emerging talent in their squad. The squad composition is also indicative of the sincere efforts of Saru to ensure we are aligned with our key strategic objectives – namely to grow the game and to ensure transformation throughout all levels of the game.”
“It is also important to note that Springbok rugby celebrates a Centenary of Test matches this year. I would therefore urge all rugby enthusiasts in the country to support this Springbok squad and to passionately encourage our national team when it runs out onto the field.”
Comment from Springbok coach, Jake White:
“South Africa is truly blessed with an abundance of rugby talent and the selectors are in a fortunate position to be able to choose from such a considerable pool of players. Our collective dedication to a system of continuity and consistency has delivered a good measure of positive results and the challenge would always be to improve on that. I want to stress, however, that the door to Springbok colours would never be closed to any player.”
Comment from Convenor of National Selectors, Peter Jooste:
“The 2006 season is of vital importance to us, and it is with this in mind that the selectors decided to choose an extended squad. We have just over a year left to prepare for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France and I view the assembly of this squad as the starting point in our overall preparation for France.”
Extended Springbok squad:
BJ Botha (Sharks), Eddie Andrews (WP), Andries Bekker (WP), Gary Botha (Blue Bulls), Bakkies Botha (Blue Bulls), Schalk Burger (WP), Deon Carstens (Sharks), Danie Coetzee (London Irish), Jacques Cronje (Blue Bulls), Os Du Randt (Cheetahs), Victor Matfield (Blue Bulls), Johann Muller (Sharks), Danie Rossouw (Blue Bulls), Lawrence Sephaka (Lions), Hanyani Shimange (WP), John Smit (Sharks), Juan Smith (Cheetahs), Solly Tyibilika (Sharks), Albert van den Berg (Sharks), CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs), Wikus van Heerden (Lions), Joe van Niekerk (WP), AJ Venter (Sharks), Pedrie Wannenburg (Blue Bulls).
De Wet Barry (WP), Meyer Bosman (Cheetahs), Tonderai Chavanga (WP), Bolla Conradie (WP), Fourie Du Preez (Blue Bulls) Jean De Villiers (WP), Gaffie Du Toit (Cheetahs), Jaque Fourie (Lions), Bryan Habana (Blue Bulls), Butch James (Sharks), Ricky Januarie (Lions), Marius Joubert (WP), Wayne Julies (Lions), Percy Montgomery (Sharks), Wynand Olivier (Blue Bulls), Breyton Paulse (Clermont-Monteferrand), Ruan Pienaar (Sharks), Andre Pretorius (Lions), Brent Russell (Sharks), Andre Snyman (Unattached), Jaco van der Westhuyzen (Blue Bulls).
By Andrew Hollely