Hougaard, Beast boost Boks

Francois Hougaard has been included in the Springbok squad for the Tri-Nations tour to Australasia while there is also place for the now eligible Beast Mtawarira.

There is also room for Butch James and his aptitude will be properly tested if he gets opportunities against the southern hemisphere’s elite.

Hougaard, who debuted for the Springboks on the 2009 year-end tour, injured his hand in the Super 14 final and was subsequently ruled out of contention for selection in the mid-year Tests. Despite being a specialist scrumhalf, he excelled on the wing for the Bulls, and will offer coach Peter de Villiers a versatile option.

Mtawarira, who was excluded for the Incoming Tours while his citizenship was being processed, is now legal, but will have a tough task wresting the No 1 shirt from the impressive Gurthro Steenkamp.

There was no place for Bjorn Basson, Alistair Hargreaves and Flip van der Merwe.

‘It’s a strong squad,’ said Springbok coach Peter de Villiers. ‘We are fortunate to have so many of our frontline players fit and available, which shows that our management of the players is working well.

‘There is a very strong core of experience in this group and there are several leaders too. The new players who have come into the set-up this season are rewarded for their good performances. We are very fortunate that we have several players who are versatile and can offer us options in different positions.’

De Villiers’ charges face a testing two-Test series against the All Blacks and he said they viewed it as an opportunity to strike a decisive blow ahead of the World Cup in 2011.

‘The Tri-Nations is always tough and this year’s tournament takes on added significance given that the World Cup is taking place in New Zealand next year.

‘We have a tough start with successive matches against New Zealand but we have had a good build-up and we have shown that we can win in New Zealand over the past two seasons. However, what happened last year is history and we have to look forward and be ready for a new set of challenges in the 2010 competition,’ De Villiers said.

Asked what he had learned from the four mid-year Tests, De Villiers said: ‘We learned who can go to the World Cup and who, psychologically, may not be strong enough.’

De Villiers has persisted with the selection of the overseas-based James (Bath) and BJ Botha (Ulster) but continues to overlook others, the most prominent being Frans Steyn (Racing Metro). The coach maintained his earlier established stance that players based abroad don’t have the capacity to compete at the level he requires.

‘The speed of the game is too quick for them,’ he said. ‘Either they must be placed on special programmes or they have have to return to play in the Super 15 (in 2011) or it’s going to be tough for them to make the World Cup squad.’

Springbok squad

Backs: Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Butch James, Ricky Januarie, Zane Kirchner, Wynand Oliver, Ruan Pienaar, Morné Steyn.

Forwards: Andries Bekker, Bakkies Botha, BJ Botha, Schalk Burger, Jannie du Plessis, Ryan Kankowski, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield, Tendai Mtawarira, Dewald Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw, John Smit (c), Pierre Spies, Gurthrö Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde.