South Africa head coach Peter de Villiers says the 2009 Super 14 will play a huge role in his country’s preparations for the forthcoming Lions tour.
South African involvement in the southern hemisphere’s premier club competition begins this evening when the Cheetahs take on the Golden Lions in Johannesburg, with de Villiers giving his country’s players an extra incentive to impress.
The man leading South Africa’s attempts to banish memories of their 1997 series defeat to the Lions has told his players that performances in the Super 14 will impact heavily on team selection, both for the Boks and the provincial opposition facing the Lions in late May, June and early July.
"This is going to be an exceptional year for South African rugby with the Lions tour taking place,” said de Villiers.
”I am very excited to see how our players perform with the prospect of the best of the four Home Unions coming here in the middle of the year.
"I’m not only keen to see how the guys who’ll be featuring in the Tests go, but also those players who’ll be vying for places in the teams that will be playing the midweek games."
With no Tests scheduled for the Boks before the Lions arrive in the republic, de Villiers says he has no qualms about throwing potential stars in at the deep end if their performances in the Super 14 justify inclusion.
"We will always reward players if their performances are of a consistently high standard and we believe they can make a contribution at international level," he explained.
"There will always be guys knocking on the door."
De Villiers also believes that the success of the South African franchises, as opposed to simply individual promise, could have a substantial impact on the degree of confidence the world champions take into the summer series.
With the Lions playing all 10 tour fixtures on unfamiliar soil, de Villiers feels that creating a fortess at all South African grounds will make Ian McGeechan’s task even harder this summer.
"More than anything else I want to see our teams winning at home.
"If our teams are well prepared, the performances will fall into place … but if we can make it as difficult as possible for the visiting sides to win here, we will gain a psychological edge, boost our confidence and make sure that all our teams are competitive."