Three test centurions in Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana and captain Jean de Villiers have been included in the 31-man South Africa squad for Rugby World Cup 2015.
Matfield and Schalk Burger will take part in their fourth Rugby World Cup, while De Villiers, Habana, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis will play in their third having all been part of South Africa's victorious team of 2007.
Sixteen members of the 31-man squad, 12 of whom have made their test debut under Heyneke Meyer since 2012, will have their first taste of Rugby World Cup action.
"We’re going to England with the hopes of a nation on our shoulders and we would really like to make our country proud."
The squad includes one uncapped player in Bulls scrum-half Rudy Paige, who was first selected to tour with the Springboks last November, while Morné Steyn makes the cut almost a year after playing his last test match for his country.
The average age of the selected players is a little over 26 and the combined number of caps in the squad is 1,297.
Springbok coach Meyer said it was very tough to select the final squad from the wider training group that had been together for the last two months.
“Every single player in our wider group worked incredibly hard and to cut the squad to 31 was probably the most difficult selection I’ve faced in my coaching career,” admitted Meyer.
“In the end, the selectors decided the 31 players named were the best we have at the moment but that is not to say any of the others won’t have a role to play, with injuries a reality in our game.
“I think the squad has a great balance between youth and experience while keeping together the core of the team that did the country proud in the last few years. We also have a number of players who know what it takes to win a World Cup and their knowledge will be very valuable.
“We’re going to England with the hopes of a nation on our shoulders and we would really like to make our country proud, but we’re under no illusions about how tough it will be.
“The gap between all the nations playing in the tournament has shrunk over the years and this will probably be the closest World Cup yet. But the players have really worked very hard over the last two months and by time we get to Eastbourne for our first match, we’ll hopefully be firing on all cylinders.”
Meyer said that although a number of players currently recovering from injuries were selected, every player in the squad is expected to be fit for the Springboks’ opening match of RWC 2015 against Japan in Brighton on 19 September.
De Villiers (fractured jaw), Duane Vermeulen (neck), Jannie du Plessis (knee), Fourie du Preez (knee), Willie le Roux (ankle), Francois Louw (shoulder) and Coenie Oosthuizen (neck) are all recovering from various injuries but are close to full match fitness.
“The best medical scenarios were taken into consideration with the selection process. Our medical team have worked incredibly hard with these players and we’re confident they will be ready to be considered to play Japan,” said Meyer.
“Although they have not been able to train fully with the rest of the squad at times, they have really worked hard on their fitness and all of them are incredibly fit, some of them in the best shape of their lives.”
The Springboks will be travelling to England on the back of a good record at Rugby World Cups, although the 2011 tournament ended in disappointment when the team got knocked out in the quarter-finals.
“The Boks have generally done very well at previous tournaments and our aim will be to build on that,” said Meyer.
“A lot of our players featured in 2007 and 2011 and will know what it takes to succeed. There is a lot of talk about the permutations for the quarter-finals, but our aim is only on the first game, against Japan.”
The Springboks will continue their Pool B campaign against Samoa in Birmingham on 26 September, followed by encounters with Scotland in Newcastle on 3 October and the USA four days later in London.
South Africa RWC 2015 squad
Forwards: Willem Alberts, Schalk Brits, Schalk Burger, Lood de Jager, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Victor Matfield, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen.
Backs: Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (captain), Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Jesse Kriel, Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Lwazi Mvovo, Rudy Paige, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Handré Pollard, Morné Steyn.
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