Springboks set for Rugby Championship
14 August 2012
The Springboks open their challenge in the new Castle Rugby Championship against newcomers Argentina at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday. The addition of the Pumas to the former Tri-Nations competition has added a new dimension to this year's battle for southern hemisphere rugby supremacy.
Fans of the Six Nations Championship might disagree, but this new tournament is the premier annual competition of its kind in the world. Consider that since the World Cup was first contested in 1987, southern hemisphere nations have won the event all but once in its seven editions.
South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are all two-time champions, while Argentina's best performance so far is a semi-final place in 2007. It is possible that the Pumas will find the competition tough to begin with, but they're expected to improve from the experience, and their scrum is traditionally one of their strengths, so there will be no standing back there.
The new competition will sport a new trophy. It weights five kilograms, stands 56 centimetres tall and made out of gold and stainless steel to give the trophy a mirror finish.
Greg Peters, the CEO of Sanzar, told SA Rugby: "The new trophy embodies all the elements of The Rugby Championship: a competition of the best versus the best in world rugby, with the four teams competing ranked one, two, three and eight in the world.
"Over the years the competition and trophy will develop its own heritage and legacy and we look forward to that evolving."
The Springbok squad for the Castle Rugby Championship is 30-strong and includes first-time call-ups for Stormers' loose-forward Siya Kolisi and Lions' prop Pat Cilliers.
A number of players who were part of the Springbok squad in June for the England test series, without playing in any games, have also been included, namely JJ Engelbrecht, Jano Vermaark and Elton Jantjies. Andries Bekker, who missed the series because of injury, has been called up too.
"It is important for us to build continuity in our squad, which is why we did not make too many changes," Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer explained at a press conference.
"Andries was always in the selection frame, but got injured shortly before England arrived and was not available. It's good to have him back.
"Pat and Siya were also part of our thinking earlier in the season and they forced their way into the squad with consistently good performances in Vodacom Super Rugby."
'A big challenge'Assessing the challenge that awaits his charges, Meyer added: "It is a big challenge, playing six tests against the best teams in the world in eight weeks and we now have to ensure we improve on how we played against England.
"It's still early days for this team, but we are excited about what lies ahead in a brand-new competition that promises to be very testing."
A late change was forced upon the squad after the initial announcement of 30 players as a result of the Sharks' JP Pietersen, one of the standout performers against England and in Super Rugby, fracturing his thumb in the final of the competition.
He had to undergo an operation, which could sideline him for up to two months. The selectors opted for Juan de Jongh, a man with 10 test caps to his name, in Pietersen's place.
"Losing JP is obviously a massive blow as he's been playing some superb rugby lately, but Juan has also been in good form for the DHL Stormers and was one of the unlucky players to miss out on initial selection," Meyer said.
Forwards: Willem Alberts, Andries Bekker, Pat Cilliers, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Dean Greyling, Siya Kolisi, Juandré Kruger, Tendai Mtawarira, Jacques Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Pierre Spies, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe
Backs: Jean de Villiers (captain) JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, Juan de Jongh, Frans Steyn, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak
CASTLE RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES
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