Recuperating South Africa captain Siya Kolisi has been included in the squad for next month’s Rugby World Cup but other key players were left out because of injury, including influential five-eighth Handre Pollard and World Cup-winning centre Lukhanyo Am.
However, the pair could yet play a part in defending their World Cup.
Kolisi had major knee surgery in April but South Africa are confident he will be fit in time for their first pool game against Scotland in Marseille on September 10.
There are 12 newcomers but the Boks have kept the bulk of the side that won the World Cup in Japan four years ago.
Head coach Jacques Nienaber named an interesting squad, featuring just two specialist hookers and four halfback options in his 33-man World Cup squad.
“We’ve picked a squad with a bunch of the players who can also cover alternative positions, which we’ll need in a very tough World Cup,” said Nienaber, with Deon Fourie providing cover at hooker and halfback Grant Williams on the wing.
But Am, who twisted his knee in a warm-up test against Argentina on Saturday, and Pollard, who has a long-running calf injury, were among the notable omissions when the squad was unveiled at an elaborate televised ceremony on Tuesday.
Also out is Lood de Jager, the giant lock who was also part of team four years ago. He has an unspecific chest complaint, SA Rugby said.
“There were some tough decision that had to be made,” Nienaber said.
“It’s not ideal, but I must say, that is the one thing from us as a coaching group. If someone didn’t get injured, there wouldn’t be a Siya (Kolisi) here now. I probably look at it from a positive point of view, injuries are never positive and it is unfortunate.
“But the next guy must just step in. We always said, Rassie (Erasmus) and myself, that we planned for 2023 since 2018. If you look at the quality and depth of the squad that was built over six years, that is what makes this team selection so difficult.
“Jesse (Kriel) is a straight swap for Lukhano and if you look at the squad, there is a lot of versatility. We can play Canan Moodie at 13, we can play Damian Willemse at 13 if we have to. There are a couple of options.
“Any game you play has an injury risk. You can either play guys and they become battle-hardened or you can wrap in cotton wool. You won’t have injured players, but you will take players into a World Cup where we are playing knock-out rugby from the very first game against Scotland. We still have five weeks left and we will have to work hard every day.”
Am, De Jager and Pollard have been placed on standby with six other players and Nienaber said he was hopeful they may return to full training before the start of the tournament and be available in the event of injury to others.
Nienaber however hinted the world class could still yet play a role in France, saying they Am and Pollard, along with a handful of others, would be on standby throughout the tournament.
“Handre’s rehab went well, but he now needs to go through a Test match week and the demands of a Test match week,” Nienaber said. “He needs to be able to produce on a Saturday and then he has to back it up the next week and the next week without putting him in too early.
“He will be able to start training with us, whereas with Lukhanyo we think it is a two-to-four-week injury. It is still very acute, and we will probably get a better gauge at the end of this week how he is doing.
“We believe they both will have the potential to be fit and ready to go by the Scotland game, maybe the week after that, but they can only come into the World Cup squad if there is an injury or if a player does something to deselect himself.”
Kolisi is expected to play in one of the two warm-up internationals that the Boks will play over the next fortnight, against Wales in Cardiff on August 19 and New Zealand at Twickenham on August 25, as he looks to prove his fitness.
South Africa play in Pool B at the World Cup where they open their campaign against Scotland on September 10 and also meet Romania, Ireland and Tonga.
SOUTH AFRICA RUGBY WORLD CUP SQUAD
Backs: Damian de Allende, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Faf de Klerk, Andre Esterhuizen, Jaden Hendrikse, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Manie Libbok, Makazole Mapimpi, Canan Moodie, Cobus Reinach, Damian Willemse, Grant Williams.
Forwards: Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff, Jean Kleyn, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx , Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Marvin Orie, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese.