Springboks recall Steyn for Lions, keep bulk of WC winners

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South Africa recalled flyhalf Morne Steyn on Saturday to a 46-man initial squad for the British and Irish Lions series starting next month.

The 36-year-old Steyn hasn’t played a test in five years but he kicked the last-gasp penalty in the second test to win the series for the Springboks when the Lions last toured South Africa in 2009.

Crucially for the Springboks, they have 14 of the 15 men who started and won the Rugby World Cup final against England in November 2019 back in their squad. Only prop Tendai Mtawarira, who has retired, is missing. All but three of the entire 2019 World Cup squad are back again.

Incredibly, that World Cup final in Tokyo was South Africa’s last test as the coronavirus pandemic and a long and strict lockdown ruined their schedule last year.

“We’ve been really hungry to play,” said director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who has moved upstairs after coaching the Boks to World Cup glory two years ago.

His assistant at the World Cup, Jacques Nienaber, was named head coach in January 2020 but hasn’t yet led the team in a test. This was his first squad after more than a year in the job, although he knows most of the players well having been part of the coaching staff since 2018.

“If you look at the squad, there is a lot of experience there,” Nienaber said.

There was one doubt for the Boks, however, after experienced No. 8 Duane Vermeulen, man of the match in the World Cup final, injured his left ankle playing in the Rainbow Cup on Friday night. Erasmus said Vermeulen, who was named in the squad, needs a scan.

“Duane is a big worry for us,” Erasmus said. “It looked bad.”

The Springboks and Lions will play three tests, one in Cape Town and two in Johannesburg, in July and August. The Lions will also play five games against South African domestic teams before the tests, and the entire tour is almost certain to be played without any fans because of the virus, unless the government has a late change of heart and eases a ban on all spectators at major sports events.

South Africa will warm up with two home tests against Georgia.

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