Rhule leads five new Bok caps
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer called up five uncapped players – including rising stars Raymond Rhule and Arno Botha – as he named a young 31-man squad to tour Ireland, Scotland and England next month.
The 19-year old Rhule is the bolter in the squad, having started the year as a virtual unknown, but has been rewarded after being a key part of the SA under-20 squad’s success in the IRB Junior World Championships, and having an incredible season with the Toyota Cheetahs, where he ended up the top try-scorer in the Absa Currie Cup competition.
The other three new caps are scrumhalf Jano Vermaak, lock Franco van der Merwe, and utility back Lionel Mapoe.
European based Springboks Schalk Brits and Gurthro Steenkamp were both recalled and join Francois Louw as the overseas-based trio in the squad.
There are also returns for Chiliboy Ralepelle and JP Pietersen, after both missed a large chunk of international test rugby when they were injured earlier this year.
But there was also a tinge of bad news about the squad, as winger Bryan Habana was ruled out of the tour with a knee injury, and joined a long injury-list of players who are all rehabilitating and destined to return for the 2013 season.
The Boks will also name a 32nd player to tour with the squad, but have held off because of the long injury list.
Rhule, who was born in Ghana but schooled in Bloemfontein, has had a meteoric rise, and is the only uncapped player in the squad not to have been involved in Springbok preparations this season.
The winger is clearly being blooded with a good future ahead of him, but with JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo, Lionel Mapoe and Francois Hougaard who can all play on the wing, it will be interesting to see where and when he gets a chance to make his debut.
As expected the flyhalf role will be between Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies and Morne Steyn, the latter chosen despite the fact he desperately needs a rest from the game.
But one aspect that Meyer should be commended on is the fact the team has 10 players of colour – two better than Peter de Villiers picked in his World Cup squad last year.
LONG INJURY LIST
While there is much talent in the side, it will be a tough tour for the Bok coach, with several inexperienced and young players in a team and an injury list that is one of the longest in Bok history.
Injured players that had been part of the Springbok squad thus far this year, but were not considered for selection, are Coenie 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. Add to this captain Jean de Villiers who still has to prove his fitness with a hamstring injury, and it leaves Meyer in a tough position.
“We’ve got a settled core of players that did the job during the England series and The Castle 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 Absa 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 Junior 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 said he expected three extremely difficult tests.
“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 Rugby 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.”
The Springbok squad will assemble in Cape Town on Wednesday and depart to the UK from Johannesburg on Saturday. They will return to South Africa on Monday, 26 November.
TOURING SQUAD (alphabetical order, number in brackets is number of caps)
Willem Alberts (The Sharks, 17)
Arno Botha (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 0)
Schalk Brits (Saracens, England, 3)
Pat Cilliers (MTN Golden Lions, 3)
Marcell Coetzee (The Sharks, 9)
Juan de Jongh (DHL Western Province, 12)
Jean de Villiers (captain) (DHL Western Province, 81)
Jannie du Plessis (The Sharks, 39)
Eben Etzebeth (DHL Western Province, 8)
Francois Hougaard (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 24)
Elton Jantjies (MTN Golden Lions, 2)
Zane Kirchner (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 21)
Juandré Kruger (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 5)
Pat Lambie (The Sharks, 17)
Francois Louw (Bath, England, 14)
Lionel Mapoe (MTN Golden Lions, 0)
Tendai Mtawarira (The Sharks, 41)
Lwazi Mvovo (The Sharks, 7)
Ruan Pienaar (Ulster, N Ireland, 60)
JP Pietersen (The Sharks, 45)
Chiliboy Ralepelle (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 21)
Raymond Rhule (Toyota FS Cheetahs, 0)
Gurthrö Steenkamp (Toulouse, France, 38)
Morné Steyn (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 41)
Adriaan Strauss (Toyota FS Cheetahs, 18)
Jaco Taute (MTN Golden Lions, 2)
CJ van der Linde (MTN Golden Lions, 73)
Flip van der Merwe (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 20)
Franco van der Merwe (MTN Golden Lions, 0)
Jano Vermaak (Vodacom Blue Bulls, 0)
Duane Vermeulen (DHL Western Province, 4)