Boks abroad on trial in Cardiff

2010-05-20 00:00

SPRINGBOK coach Peter de Villiers, thrust into the anniversary Test against Wales in Cardiff on June 5, has astutely turned the event into a positive for South African rugby.

South Africa will take on Wales just a week after the Super 14 final to commemorate the June 1999 fixture between the teams that opened the Millennium Stadium.

This fixture also brought Wales’s sole Test victory over the Springboks.

De Villiers, initially miffed that another Test has been shoehorned into a crowded international calendar, will now reap the benefits of the occasion by using it as an unofficial trial for the many quality Springboks based in Europe.

The Bok coach has been under constant pressure not to ignore overseas-based Test players as he builds his squad for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next year, and the June 5 Test provides him with an ideal opportunity to place the European talent on trial.

With the Cardiff Test squeezed between the Super 14 final — and this could involve both the Bulls and the Stormers — and the crunch Test against northern hemisphere champions France in Cape Town on June 12, De Villiers will have to select wisely.

He has said he will not select players involved in the Super 14 final for Cardiff and it is expected that as many as nine overseas players could be involved, with the balance of the 22-man squad coming from the Sharks and the Free State Cheetahs.

The squad for Cardiff is to be named on Saturday night after the Super 14 semi-finals, with a second squad, a full-strength Bok team, to be announced after the Super 14 final a week later n May 29.

This would provide his senior Boks with at least a fortnight’s break — if their teams reach the final — before they take on the might of France on June 12.

John Smit, as the respected South African captain, is the one player likely to be involved in both Tests, and in the absence of the injured Bismarck du Plessis, at hooker. A host of South African-based players will also play in Cardiff to give the Test a Springbok feel, but the real value of the outing will be to see how the overseas players perform at this level.

The SA Rugby Union have backed the inclusion of overseas players and a number have already been contac­ted to confirm their availability.

SA rugby boss Regan Hoskins has said he is honoured at the Welsh invitation, but he is also concerned about the congested Springbok programme, which now includes 14 Test matches this year.

“It is untimely given the tough Bok schedule in the build-up to the World Cup, but the Welsh Rugby Union begged us to honour the Test 10 years ago. It means a lot to them and we didn’t want to let them down.”

Among the South African overseas players who could be involved in the Cardiff Test are halfbacks Butch James and Michael Claassens (both Bath), fullback/centre Frans Steyn (Racing Metro), centre Jean de Villiers (Munster), Toulon loose forward Joe van Niekerk and props B.J. Botha (Ulster), C.J. van der Linde (Leinster) and Daan Human (Toulouse).

Others, such as Shaun Sowerby, the former Sharks loose forward now with Toulouse, and mobile hooker Schalk Britz, now making headlines for Saracens, may also be involved.

Butch James, speaking from Bath, told The Witness that he would be delighted to be selected for the Welsh Test.

“There has been a lot of talk about it over here and we could choose a really decent Springbok side using players from over here. I would love to be involved.”

De Villiers has said that his chief aim this year is to win the Tri-Nations and build a squad for the RWC next year.

He said he will be looking at the June Tests with Wales, France and back-to-back encounters with Italy as a build-up to the Tri-Nations.

“We don’t know how good the overseas players really are because the competitions there are different,” De Villiers said.

“We will consider players in South Africa for the Tri-Nations, unless we have a situation where the locally ased player is not as good as the one overseas.”

He added that his strongest possible team would play France in Cape Town, but the Super 14 final, if it involves South African teams, would disrupt preparations.

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