John Smit will lead a decidedly second-string Springbok selection on the away leg of the Tri-Nations series, but coach Peter de Villiers believes the side can still win in Australasia.
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Speaking at a media gathering in Cape Town on Wednesday, De Villiers made it clear that even with 21 frontline players out, he has not given up on winning the Southern Hemisphere championship.
"We will go out there and be as best prepared as we can be," he said of the tournament that gets underway when the Springboks play the Wallabies next Saturday, July 23, in Sydney.
"This is also the first time since [the Test series against] the B&I Lions [in 2009] that we have two weeks to prepare [for the opening Test of the season].
"That might just work in our favour," the coach added.
Both De Villiers and team doctor Craig Roberts failed to convince cynics that all 21 players are genuine injuries - especially Stormers players like Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Andries Bekker, Francois Louw and Bryan Habana.
Asked if those players would have been ruled out if the Stormers had advanced to the Super Rugby Final this week, the doctor was very noncommittal. The "maybe" answer just didn't wash.
And the absence of many other frontline players - like Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield, Frans Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, Butch James, JP Pietersen, Tendai Mtawarira and Bakkies Botha - who showed no signs of injury in the last few weeks, will surely raise the ire of their SANZAR rivals.
However, the Bok camp is adamant that it is injury related, rather than a simple case of resting players.
"It has been a long season," the team doctor, Roberts, told the media scrum, adding: "At this stage of the season every single guy has some sort of problem or niggle.
"We identified the guys who have to be managed and rehabilitated."
He declined to go into detail on individual players, but admitted that the two guys that are long-term are Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen.
Roberts described them as "eight-week type" injuries, which puts them very close to the World Cup in terms of being ready.
"The other guys are not ruled out completely out of the Tri-Nations," he said, adding: "We'll keep managing them, monitoring them and see how they respond to their rehab and make the decisions based on that."
However, he confirmed that "none" of the squad of 21 listed on Wednesday as "injured" will feature in the away leg.
De Villiers described the decision to leave the 21 players at home as "sensible".
He added that they will be rehabilitated by their own unions.
"The sensible thing is to make do with the players we have," DE Villiers said, adding: "It would have been nice to have been able to call up another tighthead [prop], but at this moment we are trying to get BJ [Botha] to be available for us [for the tour]."
Asked if players must play in Tri-Nations to feature in the World Cup, or if some players are good enough to just walk into the World Cup squad, the coach said there are only a few.
"Take a guy like Schalk Burger, who fractured his thumb, and will only be available for the opening match of the World Cup.
"He doesn't have to prove anything - he's not one of those players who need five or six games to get his form back.
"However, you can't allow that for more than two or three guys, otherwise you'll shoot yourself in the foot.
"You do get injuries, sometimes in training and off the field, but I didn't expect the list to be this long."
De Villiers said he will "remain positive" and bring that across to the players as well.
He admitted it calls for a different outlook, a different way of preparing.
He also said this gives the back-up players a chance to push for World Cup selection.
"There are places to be taken [in the World Cup squad]," DE Villiers said, adding: "All of them do stand a chance. Nothing is cast in stone.
"However, one thing we must beware of is that they see this as trials now and become too individualistic. That will take away the team dynamics.
"We must ensure they still remain and play within the team structures. That was something I was very aware of when bringing this group together [selecting the team]. Some players were very good in the Super Rugby season, but they were too individualistic - at international level that is detrimental."
The absence of 21 players from the preliminary Bok squad named recently means the Tri-Nations tour squad has effectively been selected already.
All that remains to name a starting XV.
It will also mean plenty of game time at hooker for the Bok captain, Smit, which is something the Bok mentor has been very vocal about.
Remainder of the Springbok squad: Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Heinrich Brüssow, Juan de Jongh, Jean Deysel, Dean Greyling, Alistair Hargreaves, Adrian Jacobs, Elton Jantjies, Ashley Johnson, Ryan Kankowski, Zane Kirchner, Werner Kruger, Patrick Lambie, Charl McLeod, Johann Muller, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, Wynand Olivier, Coenie Oosthuizen, Ruan Pienaar, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw, John Smit, Pierre Spies, Deon Stegmann, Morné Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe.
By Jan de Koning
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