Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
It's the 'bare bones' Boks
Cape Town - Perhaps it is a good omen ... South Africa will travel for the away leg of the Castle Tri-Nations with a decidedly second-string squad, much like Jake White did ahead of the successful World Cup 2007 campaign.
That much is now abundantly clear, after coach Peter de Villiers and team doctor Craig Roberts on Wednesday unveiled at a media conference here a rather horrific-looking list of injured players - 21 in total
- who will not take part in the matches against Australia (Sydney, July 23) or New Zealand (Wellington, July 30).
The conspiratorially-minded are bound to be smelling rats as we speak, given the sensitivity "watered down" squads generate in boardroom, sponsorship and television circles.
But at the same time, perhaps there is no reason to doubt, to letter of medical law, that a formidable tally of knocks, bumps, tears, pulls and strains has followed the maiden, extended Vodacom Super Rugby season.
There is little doubt, after all, that certain players have had almost absurd amounts of game-time: Andries Bekker of furthest-advancing South African franchise the Stormers, for instance, is listed as having three sources of woe: shoulder, groin and ankle.
Rumours had swirled for some time that De Villiers would use the pair of overseas fixtures to "fiddle with combinations" before aiming for a stronger first-choice flavour back on home soil.
This is roughly what predecessor Jake White did (though the programme then was the other way around, with home leg first) in Australasia in 2007.
Although his diluted XVs on each occasion attracted local wrath, the rookie Bok combos were pretty competitive in respective 25-17 and 33-6 losses to the Wallabies and All Blacks - the last one was a flattering score-line to the home side.
A variety of the experienced "core" of the current Bok squad have been withdrawn from the first leg, with the side especially weakened now in areas like lock - no Bekker, Victor Matfield or Bakkies Botha - and at tighthead prop where there have been fresh question marks over quality anyway.
Both Jannie du Plessis ("knee") and BJ Botha ("knee") have cried off, which means you don't have to be a rocket scientist to predict that the Bulls' improving anchorman Werner Kruger (the only No 3 specialist left in the training squad mix) will start for the first time for his country against the Aussies - unless the team management suddenly, cruelly look "outside" for an answer.
There will also be a straight shootout for the loosehead jersey - given that Beast Mtawarira ("hamstring") and Gurthro Steenkamp (still recuperating from his forearm break) stay behind - between burly ball-carriers Dean Greyling and Coenie Oosthuizen.
Still in the picture for the second row, meanwhile, will be such customers as Danie Rossouw - the evergreen utility man could deputise fairly effortlessly for Botha as No 4 lock - Flip van der Merwe, Johann Muller (the now Ulster-based player who ironically led White's experimental line-up in 2007) and Alistair Hargreaves.
Although he was not listed among the "crocked" players on Wednesday, Cheetahs open-side flank Heinrich Brüssow is presumably also not up for consideration just yet, meaning the squad, as it stands, is down to one out-and-out fetcher in Deon Stegmann, who has been blooded before and not hugely impressively.
The old midfield firm of Jean de Villiers ("groin") and Jaque Fourie ("groin", again) will not be on the plane either, meaning that the starting centres in Sydney will have to come from any of Juan de Jongh - another fine opportunity for the 23-year-old, it must be said - Wynand Olivier, Adi Jacobs or the versatile Patrick Lambie, who will also challenge forcefully for flyhalf and fullback.
Scrumhalves who will not go Down Under include the Bulls pair of Fourie du Preez ("knee") and Francois Hougaard ("ankle"), leaving a choice between just Ruan Pienaar and Charl McLeod, it seems.
The Boks will, at least, go overseas with some familiar old faces like captain John Smit (who was always going to need additional game-time at hooker), Pierre Spies and Morné Steyn, so it is not as though they are entirely wet behind the ears.
Based on remaining resources from their "prelim" squad, the Bok XV to start in Sydney could read something like this:
15 Patrick Lambie 14 Gio Aplon 13 Juan de Jongh 12 Wynand Olivier 11 Bjorn Basson/Lwazi Mvovo 10 Morne Steyn 9 Ruan Pienaar 8 Pierre Spies 7 Ashley Johnson/Danie Rossouw 6 Deon Stegmann/Jean Deysel 5 Johann Muller 4 Danie Rossouw/Flip van der Merwe 3 Werner Kruger 2 John Smit (capt) 1 Dean Greyling.