A full-strength Springbok squad departed South Africa on Friday seeking to make it three wins out of three in Wales, Scotland and England inthe coming weeks.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers won just two of the Boks’ six Tri-Nations matches in the southern hemisphere competition earlier this year, but with just a few months away from the British and Irish Lions’ visit to South Africa next season, he’ll be seeking to land an early psychological blow this month.
“We have named what we believe is the strongest squad,” De Villiers said.
“It has been selected from the players we used during the Tri-Nations as well as the form players in the (domestic) Currie Cup.
“With the Lions heading to South Africa in a just a few months these Tests are as important as any we have undertaken since our re-admissionin 1992.”
While starting with wins at the beginning of the season against Wales and Italy, De Villiers had a less than satisfying Tri-Nations.
The Boks lost four of their six Tests, but did record a first-ever win against New Zealand in Dunedin and then finished the competition with a record victory over Australia in Johannesburg.
The 53-8 triumph at Ellis Park would have served as a massive confidence boost for the Boks who now are seeking to continue where they left off in late August.
While De Villiers has opted to leave out his Europe-based Boks, among them flyhalf Butch James and tighthead prop CJ van der Linde, he’s been able to recall World Cup stars Bakkies Botha and Jaque Fourie, who missed most of the Tri-Nations because of injury.
John Smit also returns to the side as captain after picking up a groin injury in the Boks’ first Tri-Nations Test in Wellington in July.
De Villiers appears to have a squad capable of getting the better of Wales, Scotland and England, but he has gambled somewhat by opting to tour with two inexperienced flyhalves and a lack of depth at tighthead prop.
Star scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar is De Villiers’ first choice pivot, with the uncapped Earl Rose his back-up.
In the front row, captain Smit has been shifted from hooker to tighthead with the relatively inexperienced Brian Mujati the only other recognised scrum anchor in the squad.
The other uncapped player in the squad is loose forward Heinrich Brussow. The Springboks wrapped up their tour preparations on Friday without inspirational skipper Smit. The World Cup winning captain had to attend to personal matters, but joined the squad later in the day to lead them on a tour that will determine the Boks’ readiness for the Lions in 2009.
The World Champions will especially be tested by Wales at the Millennium Stadium and England at Twickenham. The tour will also serve as a stern test of De Villiers’ credentials.
The Bok boss has punted a new, expansive style for the team, but was largely unsuccessful during the Tri-Nations. He is hoping the introduction of Pienaar at flyhalf will provide the spark for his new running style.