The three World Cup winners released from South Africa’s Springbok squad for Saturday’s Test against Argentina were left out so they could get valuable playing time at their clubs, coach Peter de Villiers said on Monday.
Francois Steyn, Gurthro Steenkamp and Ruan Pienaar were surprise omissions when the squad was cut from 28 to 24 on Sunday, with wing Odwa Ndungane also being released.
The decision leaves the Springboks with no specialist flyhalf cover for Butch James.
”If something happens to Butch James, then I can’t bring in a guy who has not been playing,” De Villiers told a news conference. ”The players all need to keep sharp and it’s best if I allow the guys to play, not standing around holding kit bags.”
He added that they had also been released from the squad due to considerations regarding the make-up of the bench. ”It’s not only about the flyhalves. We also have to get the composition of the whole team right,” he said.
”Percy Montgomery will never start a game at flyhalf while I am coach, but if there’s an emergency during the game, then we can call on him and he will do a good job there.
”With any selection, the landscape can change. If I decide I want a second flyhalf on the bench, then I can call Ruan Pienaar back immediately,” De Villiers added.
”We announced a 30-man squad for the Tri-Nations home leg and the other four players are still on hand and can come back any time,” he added, referring to the clash with New Zealand in Cape Town on August 16.
Flyhalf Peter Grant and eighth man Ryan Kankowski were in the initial squad but released last week due to injury.
De Villiers said players such as Steyn and Pienaar were sent back to their provinces because they need game time.
”Because we have good relations with the provinces, we can ask them to play these guys in certain positions,” he said. ”Ruan Pienaar has not played a lot at flyhalf and I had a long chat with John Plumtree [Pienaar and Steyn’s coach at the Sharks] and he knows why the players are there.”
The players earlier attended a function with South Africa’s soccer team to present birthday cakes to former president Nelson Mandela, who recently turned 90.
The test against Argentina is a one-off game organised as a part of Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations and De Villiers said meeting him was a moving experience.
”It was a massive privilege just to be there, to shake his hand. If I live to that age, I hope I look as good as he does. Nobody has anything against that old man; he is a legend in his own lifetime and few people can say that.
”There is no one worthy enough to step in his shoes. We will carry his inspiring words with us and hopefully do justice to them in Saturday’s game,” De Villiers said. — Reuters