Ulster second row forward Johann Muller is a surprise inclusion in South Africa’s 49-man preliminary squad for the World Cup.
It’s almost two years since last term’s double-winning lock — Ulster Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Season and the Heineken Personality of the Year — won the last of his 23 Springboks caps as a member of the side beaten 28-9 by the British and Irish Lions in July 2009.
The 6ft 7in lock joins fellow-Ravenhill favourite and Bok, Ruan Pienaar, who like Muller was a double winner in his first campaign with Ulster — Magners League Player of 2010/11 and the Ulster Players’ Player of the Year.
Tighthead BJ Botha, who has left Ulster for Munster, also is in the squad which South African coach Peter de Villiers will trim to 30 on August 23 ahead of the World Cup which starts on September 9.
Meanwhile it’s another group of South Africans who stand between Ireland and a place in Sunday’s 5th-6th place play-off final in the IRB Junior World Championship.
Already Ireland’s Under 20s are guaranteed a best-ever finish after progressing beyond the bottom tier for the first time.
Tonight (7.10pm) — for the second time in eight days — they will face South Africa who beat them 42-26 when the sides clashed in Pool C on June 14. The prize for the winners of the Stadio Plebiscito 5th-8th Place semi-final is inclusion in Sunday’s final at Treviso’s Stadio Comunale di Monigo.
South Africa boast the biggest forwards in the series and the power they possess was underlined in that first meeting.
But Mike Ruddock-coached Ireland feel they have learned lessons from that defeat — and from England’s 26-20 triumph against the Boks in the Pool C decider, too.
The Irish know they could — should — have beaten England when they met in a thrilling tournament opener.
But after leading with only minutes remaining, Ireland lost 33-25 as a result of having conceded a penalty and a try after being reduced to 14 following Shane Buckley’s late sin-binning.
On Saturday night Ireland beat Scotland 30-13 with Ulster boys playing a major part in that triumph.
Five northerners — captain Niall Annett, fellow-forwards Iain Henderson and Dominic Gallagher and back pair Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall (pictured) — were in the starting 15, with Craig Gilroy, James McKinney and Conor Carey joining the fray from the bench.
The Ulster players contributed 25 of the victors’ points with Annett and Marshall bagging a try apiece — Henderson having made the latter’s score — and Jackson kicking three penalties plus a conversion augmented by a brace by McKinney who added the extras to those scores by his provincial colleagues.
Tonight there is just one change to the side which beat Scotland with Leinster’s David Doyle starting in the back row from which Gallagher is omitted.
Finlay Bealham and Alex Kelly are among the replacements.
Ruddock said: “It is up to my players to put into practice the lessons learnt last time out. If we do that then we will improve our performance. If we do that then we will be in the game big time.”
Team: Tiernan O'Halloran (Connacht); Andrew Conway (Leinster), Brendan Macken (Leinster), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Andrew Boyle (Leinster); Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Kieran Marmion (Exile); James Tracy (Leinster), Niall Annett (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Michael Kearney (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster) ; Eoin McKeon (Connacht), David Doyle (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster). Replacements: Finlay Bealham (Ulster), Conor Carey (Ulster), Daniel Qualter (Connacht), Shane Buckley (Munster), Peter du Toit (Leinster), James McKinney (Ulster), Alex Kelly (Leinster).
IRB Junior World Championship semi-finals line-up:
1st-4th Place:England v France; New Zealand v Australia; 5th-8th Place: South Africa v Ireland; Wales v Fiji; 9th-12th Place; Scotland v Tonga; Argentina v Italy.