Durban - South Africa captain Jean de Villiers has backed coach Heyneke Meyer's bold team selection for this weekend's Test against Italy, saying on Friday it was the first chance the Springboks have had in 12 months to pick an expansive-looking side.
The choice of uncapped scrumhalf Jano Vermaak and fullback Willie le Roux was unexpected but has been widely acclaimed by media, painting a picture of a coach suddenly releasing himself from the shackles of a stoically physical approach to the game.
"If you look at the teams we've played in the last year, when did he (Meyer) have an opportunity to make a selection like this?" De Villiers asked at a news conference on the eve of the test at the King's Park Rugby Stadium.
"He was under pressure from the word 'go' but he has always said that deserving guys will get an opportunity."
Meyer starts his second year in charge of the Boks with tests against Italy, Scotland and possibly Samoa over the next three weekends as part of a four-nations tournament in Durban, Nelspruit and Pretoria.
They offer easier options to his first 12 matches last year, when he began with a three-test series against England, the Rugby Championship against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand and an end-of-year tour against Ireland, Scotland and England.
Picking Cheetahs fullback Le Roux, who was not even in the training squad a month ago, and Bulls scrumhalf Vermaak was described as "exciting" by De Villiers, who plays at centre despite an injury scare earlier in the week.
"Le Roux can spark a team. He's been at the forefront of the Cheetahs' success in Super Rugby this year. Players like him have to be given a chance at international level to see how it goes," he said.
"But the coach has always selected players he believes are the best for the team. There is never an opportunity in a Bok shirt, it is always something that is deserved."