Willie free to 'express' himself
Willie free to 'express' himselfSHARE
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said he is "more excited than nervous" after unveiling a team of five debutants for the opening match of the home four-nations series – starting against Italy in Durban on Saturday.
Cheetahs utility back Willie le Roux and Bulls scrumhalf Jano Vermaak will earn their first caps for South Africa, after they were named in the starting XV on Wednesday.
The other newcomers are Bulls loose forward Arno Botha, rising young Bulls midfield star Jan Serfontein and Cheetahs prop Trevor Nyakane – who were all included on the bench.
Meyer further surprised the media contingent at the team announcement when he said Le Roux will be free to "express" himself in the same manner that he played for the Cheetahs in Super Rugby.
"I'm very excited about this team. I want to give guys chances," Meyer told the gathering.
"You need to see them at the highest level and there's no better time than now.
"It's a great attacking backline, but they need to show they can defend as well.
"At this stage, I think I'm more excited than nervous because I really believe a lot of these players can take it to the next level."
Le Roux has been outstanding for the Cheetahs in Super Rugby this season and his dynamic form is one of the reasons the Bloemfontein side have found themselves among the pacesetters in the competition.
"I've had a chat with Willie and told him that what I am expecting from him in this test match is what he has done at Super Rugby level," the Bok coach told the media scrum.
"I don't want him to change anything from what he does at the Cheetahs.
"That means he will be given licence to play his natural game.
"Willie has had a very good Super Rugby season.
"He's the form player at the moment and I want to show the guys that if they play well in Super Rugby, they're always in with a chance.
"I'm confident in him. He has an X-factor about him, he's done well in training and I'm really excited about seeing him play."
Vermaak has also been consistent for the Bulls, featuring regularly for the SA conference leaders.
"Jano's been with us the whole year last year and he's probably been the form scrumhalf in Super Rugby," Meyer said.
Captain Jean de Villiers was also included in the team, despite carrying a hamstring injury, and Meyer admitted he was unsure whether the 84-Test veteran would play this weekend.
If De Villiers failed to recover, Serfontein would make his debut alongside Bulls teammate JJ Engelbrecht.
"He hasn't trained yet this week. The doctors are quite positive, but we'll have to see in training.
"He's going to train this afternoon and he'll have two more days till Saturday. If he's not fit, probably Jan will start the game."
The coach also praised flyhalf Morné Steyn after he completed his comeback to the No.10 jersey following a poor 2012 when he lost his place to Patrick Lambie.
"I'm really happy for Morné that he's back to his best. It just shows the character of the man.
"He was written off last year and I always knew he would be back.
"One thing I will say for Morné is that he is a fighter and I also don't think that in the several years I have coached him at Springboks and Bulls level I have seen him miss a training session. He practices every single day, and really works hard. His form has been excellent and he has been rewarded for that with this selection.
"But at the same time I rate Patrick Lambie highly, and he will get his chance to play. The way I see it we have two flyhalves and which one plays will depend on what we need from a particular game."