Bryan Habana will miss the Springboks’ European tour but the selectors were bold in their selection of dynamic hooker Schalk Brits.
Habana has been in impressive form of late and his absence, as a result of a knee injury sustained in Saturday’s Currie Cup final, is a hammer blow. His unavailability opens the door for young Cheetahs winger Raymond Rhule, 19, who announced himself as a fine prospect with a series of strong performances in their domestic campaign.
Brits has consistently been among the best hookers in Europe since his move to London-based Saracens, but his claims have consistently been overlooked by the national selectors over the last three seasons. He has, however, made the cut as one of three hookers. With Adriaan Strauss expected to start, Brits will battle Chiliboy Ralepelle for the bench spot.
There is also a spot for Toulouse prop Gurthro Steenkamp, who had a strong first season for the French giants. He comes into the squad as loosehead cover in light of an injury to Coenie Oosthuizen.
Wing JP Pietersen returns to the squad after missing the Rugby Championship through injury and is one of five options in the position. Uncapped players Jano Vermaak, Franco van der Merwe, Lionel Mapoe and Arno Botha also make the cut.
The Springboks have an extensive injury list which has compromised the strength of the squad. Those who would have been considered but are sidelined are: Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Tiaan Liebenberg, Andries Bekker, Siya Kolisi, Jacques Potgieter, Pierre Spies, Johan Goosen, Frans Steyn and Habana. Furthermore, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Heinrich Brüssow are still out injured.
‘We’ve got a settled core of players that did the job during the England series and the Rugby Championship and we decided to stick with them,’ said Meyer.
‘Obviously losing so many players to injury, the latest being Coenie, Tiaan, Andries, Jacques and Bryan during the Currie Cup, makes it difficult, but this now provides opportunities for other players.
‘Gurthrö and Schalk are experienced front rankers who have played for South Africa before and know the conditions in the northern hemisphere. This tour provides a good opportunity to assess them as we plan ahead. Arno, Lionel, Franco and Jano have all been part of our squad earlier in the season.
‘Raymond put up his hand for the Baby Boks and the Cheetahs and I’m very excited to see what he can do. It’s also great to have JP and Chiliboy back from injury as they bring a lot of experience to the squad.’
Meyer’s team face Ireland on 10 November, Scotland on 17 November and England on 24 November, and the coach predicted a testing tour.
‘Although the Springboks won on their last visit to Dublin [in 2010], they lost three in a row before that,’ he said. ‘In 2010, we lost to Scotland in Edinburgh. They beat the Wallabies in Australia earlier in the year, so it won’t be easy there.
‘And in June we’ve experienced first-hand how difficult and opponent England are. They will be fired up at Twickenham and it will be a challenging Test to end the tour with.
‘Our aim is to end the season on a positive note. We set ourselves high standards and we want to improve with every Test, but we have a team that is still gaining valuable experience as we strive to constantly be amongst the top sides in the world. We know we’re not there yet, but we’ve laid a foundation in the first nine Tests this year and we will build on that.
‘The World Cup in 2015 also takes place in England, so we will use this tour to see how our players adapt to the conditions as we look ahead to that very important tournament.’
Springbok squad – Willem Alberts, Arno Botha, Schalk Brits, Pat Cilliers, Marcell Coetzee, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (c), Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Zane Kirchner, Juandré Kruger, Pat Lambie, Francois Louw, Lionel Mapoe, Beast Mtawarira, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Raymond Rhule, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Morné Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Jaco Taute, CJ van der Linde, Flip van der Merwe, Franco van der Merwe, Jano Vermaak, Duane Vermeulen.