Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has defended his selection of several "30-somethings" in the squad to do duty during the Castle Lager Incoming Series.
Speaking to the media on Sunday in Cape Town, the Springbok coach said that all over the world successful teams included a raft of experienced players.
“I watched Toulon win the [Top 14] final last night [Saturday] and saw the role experience played in their win,” Meyer said.
“Most of the successful teams around the world have many experienced players. Some of them have been written off but some of them move on and become super stars.”
Meyer opted for aging players like Victor Matfield (37), Schalk Burger (31), Fourie du Preez (32), Bakkies Botha (34) and Schalk Brits (33), saying they all proved they were still good enough.
“You can’t go about team-building every year.
“The youth brings enthusiasm to the squad but we need a balance. Some of the [Springbok] players who have moved on have become super stars in another country after they were written off [in South Africa].”
Meyer said he was not surprised that Matfield was back to his best form after coming out of retirement.
“Victor has been in superb form and I’m not surprised.
“He’s always wanted to be the fittest in the Bulls group. He has showed that he’s not only back for the money but he also wants to be the best.”
Meyer said he was aware that every time a national squad was selected there were “unlucky” players.
“I feel that selections can be harsh and it can impact of players and their families.
“Sometimes it [non-selection] also seems unfair and then sometimes deserving players are struck by injuries. But the guys who were at the camp last week and did not make the final 36-man squad, will now know that they are in the [selection] picture, especially if there are injuries [in the Bok squad].”
The 36-man squad is bigger than the usual squad used for the mid-year Incoming Series and Meyer said he asked for extra matches and players with the view of preparing for next year’s World Cup.
“I have asked for two extra matches and players because it helps players to hit form,” he explained.
“We have one eye on the World Cup and it will be a great thing if players can get their chance to perform.
“There is also the question of injuries just before a World Cup. It is an unbelievable opportunity for youngsters to get know how to adapt [at international level] and it also gives them an idea of how good they must be.”
South Africa will go into its first tests of 2014 without captain Jean de Villiers, flyhalf Pat Lambie, centre Jaque Fourie and lock Eben Etzebeth, who are all injured. The Springboks host a World XV, two tests against Wales and a one-off test against Scotland in the June international break.
Matfield is in line to possibly captain the Springboks in the absence of de Villiers just a few months after returning to top-level rugby and reversing his decision to retire. The 37-year-old Matfield and 31-year-old flanker Burger haven’t played for South Africa since the 2011 World Cup.
The uncapped players picked by Meyer following Saturday’s Super Rugby games were center Damian de Allende, lock Lood de Jager, wing Cornal Hendricks, loose forward Teboho Mohoje, centre S’bura Sithole, prop Marcel van der Merwe and hooker Callie Visagie.
The overseas-based players were Botha, Brits, scrumhalves Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar, wing Bryan Habana, fullback Zane Kirchner, flanker Francois Louw and prop Gurthro Steenkamp. Toulon flanker Juan Smith, another of South Africa’s group of veteran World Cup winners, was also close to winning a place in the squad after reviving his career in France, the South African Rugby Union said. Smith asked not to be considered for this squad.
South Africa plays the World XV on June 7, Wales on June 14 and 21 and Scotland on June 28. – Sapa-AP