South Africa received a timely boost with the inclusion of Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn in a 41-man squad chosen for duty in the Rugby Championship, but injured gamebreaker Cheslin Kolbe is doubtful to recover in time to feature in the tournament.
Veterans Vermeulen and Steyn will have to prove their fitness in the coming weeks as the No 8 missed the series against Wales to undergo a knee operation, while two-time world champion Steyn was ruled out with a hamstring injury suffered during the Cheetahs’ Currie Cup campaign.
Their recall comes at the expense of Vodacom Bulls flank Marcell Coetzee and Sharks flyer Aphelele Fassi, who have returned to their franchises.
“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,” said Nienaber in a Bok news release. “This will offer the coaches and medical staff a good opportunity to determine where they are in terms of their rugby.
“It is disappointing for Aphelele and Marcell … 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.”
Kolbe suffered a broken jaw in the Cape Town Test against Wales and is only set to be available for selection at some point in September – on this timeline, he may miss the championship or make his comeback in one of two matches against Argentina.
Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who completed his rehabilitation on a dislocated shoulder requires medical clearance from his club Montpellier before he can be considered for selection.
The Springboks will play back-to-back Tests against the All Blacks in Nelspruit on Saturday, 6 August and in Johannesburg a week later on 13 August.
This will be followed by a trip to Australia, where they will face the Wallabies at the Adelaide Oval (27 August) and Allianz Stadium in Sydney (3 September), before travelling to Argentina where they will meet the Pumas at Estadio José Amalfitani in Buenos Aires on 17 September. The team will then return to South Africa to wrap up their campaign in Durban against the Pumas on Saturday, 24 September.
“We will reassess the size of the squad for our tour to Australia and Argentina in the next few weeks,” said Nienaber. “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.
“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.”
The Springboks were set to assemble in Mpumalanga on Sunday with a training camp in Hazyview before making the journey to Nelspruit on Friday afternoon for the week leading up to the Test against the All Blacks at the Mbombela Stadium.
Springbok squad for Rugby Championship:
Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
Vincent Koch (Wasps)
Frans Malherbe (Stormers)
Ntuthuko Mchunu (Sharks)
Ox Nche (Sharks)
Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92)
Joseph Dweba (Stormers)
Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears)
Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks)
Lood de Jager (Wild Knights)
Eben Etzebeth (Sharks)
Salmaan Moerat (Stormers)
Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
Marvin Orie (Stormers)
Pieter-Steph du Toit (Verblitz)
Siya Kolisi (Sharks)
Elrigh Louw (Bulls)
Evan Roos (Stormers)
Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs)
Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers)
Duane Vermeulen (Ulster)
Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse)
Deon Fourie (Stormers)
Franco Mostert (Honda Heat)
Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles)
Jaden Hendrikse (Sharks)
Herschel Jantjies (Stormers)
Grant Williams (Sharks)
Elton Jantjies (NTT Docomo)
Handre Pollard (Leicester Tigers)
Lukhanyo Am (Sharks)
Damian de Allende (Wild Knights)
Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins)
Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles)
Warrick Gelant (Racing 92)
Willie le Roux (Verblitz)
Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks)
Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls)
Frans Steyn (Cheetahs)
Damian Willemse (Stormers)
Rugby Championship fixtures (SA times):
5:05pm: Saturday, 6 August – Springboks vs New Zealand (Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit)
5:05pm: Saturday, 13 August – Springboks vs New Zealand (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
7:30am: Saturday, 27 August – Australia vs Springboks (Adelaide Oval, Adelaide)
11:35am: Saturday, 3 September – Australia vs Springboks (Allianz Stadium, Sydney)
9:10pm: Saturday, 17 September – Argentina vs Springboks (Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires)
5:05pm: Saturday, 24 September – Springboks vs Argentina (Kings Park, Durban)