South Africa coach Peter de Villiers is encouraged by the progress made by key duo Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn ahead of the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
The Sharks pair were injured during the latter stages of the Super 14 competition, but appear to be on course to be fit for the first match in Durban on June 20.
De Villiers has taken plenty of positives since the Springboks gathered at camp two weeks ago – not least the return to fitness of Pienaar (ankle) and Steyn (knee).
He wrote in his column on www.sarugby.co.za: “It was encouraging to see the likes of Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn running again after their injury lay-offs.
“They will continue to receive treatment in the days ahead to ensure that they will be fit for selection ahead of the first Test on June 20.
“The good news from the medical and conditioning team is that they expect a fully-fit squad by that time.
“With the initial groundwork done, the full squad of 28 will hit the ground running in Durban next week as we intensify preparations for the first Test.
“The initial part of our preparations for the British and Irish Lions Test series is over and I am satisfied with the progress we have made over the past two weeks.”
The Bulls players that are part of De Villiers’ squad were given a break after their victory in the Super 14 final last week and the rest of the squad will also be given the weekend off before reassembling in Durban next week.
The coach continued: “It was imperative that we gave the Vodacom Bulls players the past week off to allow them some rest after their tough Vodacom Super 14 semi-final and final matches.
“The encouraging thing for me was that all of them came through those two matches without injury which is a great confidence booster.
“With the Vodacom Bulls putting their feet up after their stunning victory we were afforded the opportunity to work with the balance of the squad to test their levels of fitness, assess and treat players carrying injuries, work with the kickers, test out some new plays and formulate our game strategies.”
De Villiers, who has not named a specialist full-back in his squad, also refused to give anything away as to who will pull on the disputed number 15 jersey.
“Since our squad announcement there has been much debate over who will play full-back in the series,” he said. “There are numerous candidates in the squad who are all more than capable in the position and we will be looking at each of them in the coming weeks with the aim of finding the best back-three combination.
“We are blessed to have great rugby players in South Africa which is a major benefit for the coaching team.
“The Vodacom Bulls’ Super 14 win has given us great impetus as their players will come into the squad in a very positive frame of mind.”
Reflecting on the tourists, who trounced the Golden Lions 74-10 in their latest warm-up game on Wednesday, De Villiers added: “The Lions looked good in midweek and we are expecting the Test series to be very tough.
“It is going to be a great contest and one that our entire squad is looking forward to.”