Johannesburg (AFP) – Springboks coach Allister Coetzee has rewarded Southern Kings’ Super Rugby winning streak by naming four of their stars for a training camp before facing France in June.
Kings skipper and fly-half Lionel Cronje, winger Makazole Mapimpi and loose forwards Chris Cloete and Andisa Ntsila got the nod for the May 21-23 Johannesburg gathering.
Traditional whipping boys, the Kings have won their last three matches against NSW Waratahs in Australia and Melbourne Rebels and Coastal Sharks at home.
The dramatic turnaround comes amid media speculation that Kings are likely to be among two South African sides axed from Super Rugby at the end of this season.
Super Rugby will downsize from 18 teams to 15 next year, with an Australian side also to be dumped, because of dwindling supporter interest and rising costs.
The Springbok camp is the third and last for local players ahead of Tests against France in Pretoria (June 10), Durban (June 17) and Johannesburg (June 24).
A squad for the France series will be named on May 23, and is expected to also include foreign-based South Africans from French and English clubs.
Coetzee begins his second season desperate for success having lost eight of 12 Tests in 2016 — an unwanted calendar year record for the Springboks.
Among the 39 players chosen for the Johannesburg camp is Sharks fly-half Patrick Lambie, who retired concussed during the first half of the loss to Kings last Saturday.
He had only just returned from a lengthy back injury lay-off and has been ruled out of a trip to Singapore for a Super Rugby fixture this weekend.
Lambie was sidelined for six months last year after suffering concussion in the first Test of the season, a loss to Ireland in Cape Town.
He and Golden Lions playmaker Elton Jantjies are considered the likeliest contenders for the fly-half role against France.