Rassie Erasmus confirmed this development during a virtual media briefing on Friday, where SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby was joined by Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber to provide an update on the preparations for the international season.
Erasmus explained that a larger-than-usual national squad - which will be named after the Rainbow Cup SA clash between the Emirates Lions and the Cell C Sharks in Johannesburg on 5 June - will be chosen to accommodate both the Springbok and SA A training schedule at the same time.
The SA A team will play the British & Irish Lions on 14 July at the Cape Town Stadium and Erasmus confirmed the Springbok management will also take charge of their match preparations, with the plan to trim the squad to around 35 players before the first Test, also in Cape Town on Saturday, 24 July.
The much-anticipated Castle Lager Lions Series is set to start with a clash between Warren Gatland’s touring team and the Johannesburg-based Emirates Lions on Saturday, 3 July, but the Springboks will make their return to international rugby a day earlier, on Friday 2 July, in the first of two Tests against Georgia, with the second Test scheduled a week later, on 9 July. The venues and kick-off times for these matches will be confirmed shortly.
“The Tests against Georgia will be on Friday nights so that they don’t clash with the provincial matches against the British & Irish Lions on the Saturday, and we’re waiting for those details to be confirmed,” Erasmus explained.
Erasmus added that the Springbok coaching staff were encouraged by the form of many South African players who have been impressing in competitions around the world, as well as local players, some of which look set to miss out due to injury.
“I can mention a guy like Salmaan (Moerat), who was doing really well, and we were excited about that, but unfortunately it’s now touch-and-go whether he will be available due to injury,” Erasmus explained.
“Similarly, (Sikhumbuzo) Notshe was just putting a marker down, but then got injured. I really feel for them.
“What I would say is that we are very fortunate to have players who’ve been in action all over the world. We’ve been quite restricted in South Africa in terms of international rugby, and we couldn’t take part in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship last year.
“So, while the local players have been playing a lot against each other, we have many others who have been getting exposure overseas.
“We’ve had lots of players doing well in the (English) Premiership, and a guy like Damian de Allende is in very good form with Munster in the PRO14. This has been really beneficial for us along with the local boys who have been getting a lot of rugby under the belt.”
Looking towards the selection of the enlarged squad, Erasmus said the selectors will have a good pool of players to choose from.
“There are definitely a few young guns who are in the mix along with the older or more familiar guys,” said Erasmus.
“We have wonderful talent available to us, and many have been playing top-level rugby overseas. So that’s been very encouraging.”
Nienaber, who was appointed early last year but will only have his first stab as head coach in July, 18 month later, admitted that he was excited to get going in his new role.
“Yes, I have butterflies and I cannot wait, but from a strategic point of view, the first goal is to win,” Nienaber said, while he also confirmed that the Georgia series falls inside the international window, which means all the overseas-based players can be considered for selection.
The Springboks were last in action on 2 November 2019 against England in the Rugby World Cup Final in Tokyo, Japan.