Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is set to name a large number of Lions players in his 31-man Rugby Championship squad, reports JON CARDINELLI in Stellenbosch.
On Sunday, SA Rugby confirmed that 18 players have been selected for a conditioning camp in Stellenbosch. The camp will conclude on Thursday after Coetzee and his coaching staff have had an opportunity to assess the players' fitness ahead of the Boks' Rugby Championship campaign, which will commence against Argentina in Nelspruit on 20 August.
For the moment, no overseas-based Boks or Lions players are in camp. That will all change, however, once the overseas-based players have been released from their respective clubs, and the Lions – who are currently in Wellington preparing for a Super Rugby final against the Hurricanes – return to South Africa. Coetzee will name his 31-man Rugby Championship squad this Saturday.
The All Blacks and the Wallabies have already named their respective squads for the coming tournament. Coetzee has delayed the Bok squad announcement until after the Super Rugby final, as he doesn't want to upset the confidence of the Lions' players ahead of such an important clash.
Speaking at the Boks' base in Stellenbosch on Monday, Coetzee said that the Lions have been a revelation in the 2016 Super Rugby tournament. He began the press conference by reading a statement that expressed his admiration for the Johannesburg-based side.
'I just want to wish the Lions well ahead of the final this weekend,' the Bok coach said. 'They've played with a lot of confidence this season, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that they will go all the way [and win the final]. It will be a big boost for all of us here at the Boks.
'I remember when I was part of the Bok coaching staff in 2007,' Coetzee continued. 'The Sharks played the Bulls in the Super 14 final that year, and afterwards, those players brought a lot of good energy into the Bok camp.
'I don't want to distract any of those Lions players by naming the squad now. What I can say is that I've been pleased to see the Lions beating New Zealand teams in playoffs and progressing all the way to the final. They've been playing with such confidence and have been taking such great options. They work for each other and it's that confidence and work ethic that I want to see coming through at Test level.
'I'm not saying that we must just copy what the Lions are doing, as Test rugby is very different to Super Rugby. But there are some ingredients that we are looking to add to the Bok mix.'
A number of the Lions players have already represented the Boks this season. Several more could receive the opportunity to represent their country in the coming months. Hooker Malcolm Marx is but one who has impressed Coetzee in recent times.
Bongi Mbonambi has joined the Boks in Stellenbosch, and Coetzee has confirmed that the omission of the Stormers hooker's name on the initial SA Rugby press release was a mistake. With regard to the omission of Scarra Ntubeni, Coetzee wants the hooker to get some game time and find some form for Western Province in the Currie Cup. The Bok coach suggested that Marx will come into the national squad as the third-hooker option.
JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux, who were not named in the 18-man group, are unlikely to feature in the matches against Argentina.
'Both are available for selection at the moment,' explained Coetzee. 'However, I want them to go back and enjoy a proper pre-season with their respective clubs [Pietersen is now with Leicester in England and Le Roux with the Canon Eagles in Japan].
'When last did a guy like JP enjoy a proper pre-season? He's a quality player, they both are, and I'm not about to throw them away. They will form part of my broader plan [looking towards the 2019 World Cup]. Right now, though, I think it's important that they get four weeks off, and then focus on a good pre-season.'
Coetzee went out of his way to confirm that overseas-based players such as Duane Vermeulen, who was recently named Toulon captain, will have a crucial role to play in the Rugby Championship.
'The regulations haven't changed regarding player availability at this time,' the Bok coach said.
Coetzee is also hoping to welcome a couple of sevens players into the fold when they return from their stint at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 14 August. Players such as Cheslin Kolbe and Juan de Jongh could be drafted straight into the Rugby Championship squad ahead of the home and away Tests against Argentina.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images