Du Preez back in Springbok fold, Vermeulen fit
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez returned for the Springboks after a two-year absence on Wednesday as coach Heyneke Meyer named him to the bench for the Rugby Championship test against Argentina.
Japan-based Du Preez, a 2007 World Cup winner, will have the chance of a first appearance for the national team since the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, after which he left South African rugby for Suntory Sungoliath.
“I just felt it was the right thing to do for the team to ease Fourie back. He’ll definitely get game time going forward,” Meyer said.
Du Preez was joined by France-based prop Gurthro Steenkamp, who also was back as one of the replacements for the game at FNB Stadium in Soweto. Meyer picked an unusually high seven foreign-based players in his 23 for the Boks’ championship opener on Saturday, with five in the starting 15 — an acceptance of the growing number of top Springboks leaving to play for big-paying clubs overseas.
Du Preez, now 31 and with 62 test appearances, and Steenkamp were two of four changes to the matchday squad from South Africa’s last test, a 56-23 win over Samoa in June. Meyer said he was opting for continuity after South Africa won its last six tests, while re-introducing the experience of Du Preez and Steenkamp.
In the other changes, Racing Metro’s Juandre Kruger came in at lock for Flip van der Merwe, who dropped to the bench, and Duane Vermeulen recovered from injury to return at No. 8 for his first test of the season.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn and record try-scoring wing Bryan Habana retained their starting places despite recently joining French clubs Stade Francais and Toulon, respectively. South Africa’s backline, with Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf and captain Jean de Villiers at inside center, was unchanged from the Samoa victory. Bath flanker Francois Louw was the other foreign-based player in the 15.
No. 2-ranked South Africa’s last game against No. 10 Argentina was a 16-16 draw in Mendoza in last year’s Rugby Championship, the closest the Springboks have come to losing to the Pumas in their 15 previous meetings.
“I think it was clear last year that the Argentinians are not in the Rugby Championship to make up the numbers, which means we will have to be focused on doing the little things right,” Meyer said. “They’ve been together for a few weeks now and will be a tough opponent on Saturday.”
South Africa’s 2010 test against New Zealand at FNB Stadium, formerly Soccer City, had an attendance of 94,713 — the record for an international in South Africa. This game is dedicated to South Africa’s 95-year-old former president and national hero Nelson Mandela.
Willie le Roux, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Fourie du Preez, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.