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Rassie's first squad littered with rookies

TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus named an exciting squad of 35 players for the team’s first official training camp of the season.

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The camp starts in Pretoria on Monday, where the focus will be on the opening Test of the season against Wales on 22 June.

The Boks are in for a blockbuster 2024 season kicking off later this month against Wales in London.

The squad includes 11 uncapped players and a cohort of players from the 2023 and 2019 World Cup-winning squads.

The uncapped players in the squad are Jordan Hendrikse (the brother of Jaden Hendrikse), Quan Horn, Edwill van der Merwe, Morné van den Berg (all Lions players), Phepsi Buthelezi, Siya Masuku, Ethan Hooker (from the Sharks), Ben-Jason Dixon, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Neethling Fouche and Andre-Hugo Venter (Stormers), who were outstanding in their respective competitions this season.

Players based in Europe, the UK and Ireland will not be considered for the Boks’ first Test of the season against Wales at Twickenham.

Players in contention from the Bulls, who advanced to the semifinal of the United Rugby Championship, were also not considered for this squad.

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The squad includes 19 forwards and 16 backs.

World Cup-winning flyhalf Handre Pollard and No.8 Jasper Wiese (who is serving a six-week ban) have been named in the group and will be allowed to train with their teammates, but will only be available for selection after the Wales Test.

Erasmus included a local contingent from the newly crowned Challenge Cup champions, the Sharks, and the Lions – whose URC seasons came to a halt after the pool stages last weekend – as well as the Stormers, who were knocked out of the competition after they lost to Glasgow Warriors at the weekend.

Players plying their trade in Japan were also named in the squad.

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The only players in the group who did not participate in either of the Springbok alignment sessions in March and May respectively, as well as the virtual alignment camp hosted early in May, are Hooker and Van der Merwe.

“We selected a group of players featuring a good mix of youth and experience, and in terms of the young players especially, we believe they have the potential to make the step-up to top international rugby,” said Erasmus.

“We’ve been following all their performances closely, we had the luxury of presenting our plans to them and getting to know them as individuals off the field at the alignment camps, and we are pleased with the enthusiasm they showed and willingness to learn.

“With the players based in Europe, the UK and Ireland not available for Wales, we anticipate that there will be a few players making their Test debuts in that match, but even for those who do not make the cut, having them in camp and getting the chance to work closely with them on the field will set them and the team in good stead as we prepare for this season and start laying the foundation for the 2027 World Cup in Australia.”

Erasmus added: “We gained immense value by granting a few players a chance to prove what they can do at international level in the last few years leading up to the 2023 World Cup. Some of the players who made their Test debuts in that time were members of the squad that lifted the trophy in Paris, and we feel it is important that we continue blooding new players as we build toward the future.

“As things stand, we have a bunch of young players that already have Test experience and who know exactly how we operate as a team and what is expected of them at this level, and we have no doubt that we will reap the rewards in the years to come as we continue to increase our squad depth.

“As always there are a few unlucky players who missed out on selection this time, but the door will always be open for them to be called up if the need arises.”

Steven Kitshoff, Lood de Jager and Jaden Hendrikse among a handful of players were not considered for the squad due to injury.

The Wales Test will be followed by the mid-year series – which features back-to-back Tests against Ireland (ranked second in the world) in Pretoria and Durban respectively (on July 6 and 13), as well as a historic first Test against Portugal in Bloemfontein on July 20.

The Springboks will then turn their attention to the Rugby Championship where they will line up against Australia in Brisbane and Perth (on August 10 and 17), before facing arch-rivals New Zealand on consecutive weekends in South Africa in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively (on August 31 and September 7).

They will then make a short trip to Argentina where they will face the Pumas in Santiago (on September 21) and then in Nelspruit on September 28.

This will be followed by the traditional year-end tour featuring Tests against Scotland in Edinburgh (November 9), England in London (November 16) and Wales in Cardiff (November 23).

Springbok training squad

Forwards: Phepsi Buthelezi (Sharks), Joseph Dweba, Ben-Jason Dixon (both Stormers), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz), Eben Etzebeth (Sharks), Neethling Fouche (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Sharks), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Spears), Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks), Ntuthuko Mchunu (Sharks), Salmaan Moerat (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Heat), Ox Nche (Sharks), Evan Roos (Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Blu Revs), Andre-Hugo Venter (Stormers), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers).

Backs: Damian de Allende (Wild Knights), Faf de Klerk (Eagles), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins), Aphelele Fassi (Sharks), Jordan Hendrikse (Lions), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers), Ethan Hooker (Sharks), Quan Horn (Lions), Cheslin Kolbe (Sungoliath) Jesse Kriel (Eagles), Manie Libbok (Stormers), Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Masuku (both Sharks), Handre Pollard (Leicester Tigers), Morné van den Berg (Lions), Edwill van der Merwe (Lions), Grant Williams (Sharks).

In the latest episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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