South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday recalled openside flank Francois Louw and chose the uncapped duo of eighthman Duane Vermeulen and flyhalf Johan Goosen to open the possibility of a significant change in approach for the Springboks’ two Rugby Championship matches in Australia and New Zealand.
South Africa opened their Rugby Championship campaign against debutants Argentina, beating them 27-6 in Cape Town but without a try-scoring bonus point, before being held to a shock 16-16 draw in Mendoza last weekend.
Amidst massive criticism of the game plan the Springboks have employed so far this year, Meyer suggested some willingness to change on Wednesday when he gave first call-ups to Vermeulen and Goosen.
The 26-year-old Vermeulen has been a star for the Stormers with his powerhouse displays from the back of the scrum, but several injuries have prevented him from being chosen earlier for the Springboks.
The 20-year-old Goosen sprung to prominence in last year’s IRB Junior World Championship before making a prolific SuperRugby debut for the Cheetahs this year, until a serious shoulder injury ruled him out of action from the beginning of May until last weekend.
“Injuries meant we could not use Duane and Johan earlier in the season, but both have played Currie Cup rugby since their return and, after consultation with their respective provincial medical teams, we’re confident that they are ready to travel with us. While Duane and Johan are medically fit, their provincial coaches felt it necessary that they get more game time in the Currie Cup this weekend, but as we don’t have a lot of time to prepare and we need as much time with them as possible to get them used to our structures and game plans, the decision was taken to select them for the tour,” Meyer said in a statement released by the South African Rugby Union on Wednesday.
“I regard both of them as world-class rugby players. If it wasn’t for injuries, Duane would have been a Springbok long ago. I also believe Johan has a long career ahead of him at test match level and we will expose him when and how we feel it will benefit the player and the team best.”
The lack of a specialist fetcher in the Springbok squad had also been criticised, with Louw getting a summons from Meyer despite the fact that he now plays his rugby in England for Bath. A raft of injuries in South Africa’s loose forward stocks have also complicated matters, with veterans Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussow and new Stormers sensation Siya Kolisi all ruled out at the moment, while Ryan Kankowski is currently playing rugby in Japan.
“We were very keen to give Siya Kolisi an opportunity on this tour, but he is also out injured. Francois played at the Rugby World Cup last year and is an experienced player. We opted for Francois because he is a specialist openside flanker, in the absence of Schalk, Heinrich and Siya, that can cover blindside and number eight as well, while he is also a very useful option in the lineout,” Meyer said.
South Africa’s young squad – 20 of the 28 are under 28 years old – will have to learn quickly from their mistakes in Argentina, where their dependence on physical dominance failed as the Pumas matched them in the collisions.
The inclusion of Goosen, who has a prodigious boot but can also spark a backline, and recalled World Cup centre Juan de Jongh suggests Meyer has heard the call for more creative play from his team.
Loose forward Keegan Daniel, who Meyer had suggested would see action against Australia, and utility back JJ Engelbrecht are the players omitted from the squad that went to Argentina.
Squad – Zane Kirchner, Pat Lambie, Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo, Jean de Villiers, Francois Steyn, Juan de Jongh, Morne Steyn, Johan Goosen, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Hougaard, Jano Vermaak, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw, Jacques Potgieter, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Andries Bekker, Pat Cilliers, Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Dean Greyling, Adriaan Strauss, Tiaan Liebenberg, Craig Burden.