Francois Hougaard during the Springbok Sevens squad assembly and training at Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, Stellenbosch, on 9 November 2015.
CAPE TOWN - Overseas-based stars Francois Hougaard and Duane Vermeulen will arrive in the Springbok camp early this week as final preparations take place for the opening Test against France.
Hougaard will link up with the squad on Monday after completing his duties with the Worcester Warriors, while Vermeulen will join the Boks after featuring in Sunday’s Top 14 final for Toulon.
Although Hougaard started four games on the wing for the Boks last year, he is expected to be regarded primarily as a scrumhalf for the three-Test series against Les Bleus.
Vermeulen fell out of national favour last year, but has been recalled to the Springbok squad in order to add some much-needed experience and physicality, particularly on defence.
With newly-named skipper Warren Whiteley set to continue as the incumbent No 8, coach Allister Coetzee has hinted that Vermeulen could be set for a move to blindside flank, while Siya Kolisi or Jaco Kriel would then be likely to start on the openside.
The arrival of Hougaard and Vermeulen will see the Bok squad finally brought to its full complement of players, with Montpellier-based Frans Steyn having joined up with the squad last week.
Steyn made his Bok return as the squad continued their team building and training sessions in Plettenberg Bay, although there would have been some concern around the fact that centres Lionel Mapoe and Damian de Allende were unable to take to the field due to injury niggles.
Mapoe picked up a minor hamstring strain earlier in the week, while De Allende is suffering from a thigh contusion sustained in Super Rugby, but both should be fit for the opening Test in Pretoria on June 10.
Whiteley said the time spent in Plettenberg Bay had been highly productive, with Test referee Jaco Peyper having also spent two days at the camp to assist with many technical aspects of the laws.
“We are essentially a new group, so it was important for us to be able to spend quality time together as a team,” Whiteley commented. “Off the field, we really spent a good deal of time to focus on the building of a strong and enjoyable team environment. Those activities were thoroughly enjoyable and it gave us chance to get to know one another much better, which is so important for a good team environment.
“Jaco is a very experienced and well-respected international referee, and for us, as players, it was a rare chance to spend quality time with him and to gain insight from his experience as a world-class referee,” he added.
The Bok squad travel to Pretoria on Sunday, with the team for the first Test in Pretoria, set to be announced on Thursday.
Meanwhile, France have suffered a blow after first-choice flyhalf Camille Lopez opted to undergo an operation, which will rule him out of the series against the Boks.