Cape Town – It is dubiously called a “Test window” period anyway,
and the Springboks must use the three weeks of international activity in June
next year as a genuine window of opportunity to prepare themselves for more
glamorous goals later in the season.
Our national side has a greatly less taxing, on paper, June
agenda than either of their most traditional southern hemisphere rivals, New
Zealand and Australia ... and must use it to their advantage in terms of
bigger-picture aspirations like the Castle Rugby Championship a bit further up
the gruelling 2013 drag.
It was confirmed recently that the Boks’ initial obligations
next year, during the now traditional June “gap” period in Super Rugby, will be
as part of a four-nation tournament also featuring Scotland, Italy and Samoa.
They play Italy at the first-time location of Mbombela
Stadium in Nelspruit on June 8, the Scots at Kings Park on June 15, and then a
likely “final” – as they will be heavy tourney favourites – against one of the
three other sides at Loftus on June 22, depending on the finishing pecking order.
With respect to the visiting trio, there is simply no
comparison between South Africa’s June programme and the altogether stiffer
itineraries laid out for fellow SANZAR giants the All Blacks and Wallabies.
The Samoans, who the Boks will hopefully play in the Loftus
game for the sake of variety, are eternally hard-tackling and uncompromising,
but like all the Pacific Island sides do struggle to be truly competitive at
the set-piece against the bigger Test powers, particularly when they oppose
them in their own strongholds.
The Italians and Scots, for their part, almost routinely
occupy bottom-half slots on the Six Nations table -- and Scotland’s last Test
appearance of this year was a humiliating home defeat to Tonga!
World champions the All Blacks will play home Tests on three
successive Saturdays against France, dangerous through their unpredictability
at the best of times and seemingly back on an encouraging upward curve anyway.
All New Zealanders will know, with memories of the
nail-biting (8-7) 2011 World Cup final still fresh on their minds, that the
French will allow their hosts few luxuries in terms of experimentation or
rotation – that might only come in game three, in the event that the All Blacks
have already gone an unassailable 2-0 ahead in the series.
In some respects, Les Bleus had a more satisfying
end-of-year period in 2012 than New Zealand did, considering that they won all
their fixtures – including beating Australia by a consummate 33-6 and Argentina
39-22 – whereas the tiring All Blacks tripped up rather spectacularly against
England at Twickenham.
The Wallabies, for their part, probably have it the toughest
of the SANZAR powers in June (and for them early July, too) when they tackle
the British and Irish Lions over three Tests – a once-every-12-years event for
the big three of the “south” and a prestigious, money-spinning one never taken
So if the Boks play their cards correctly, they may be in
the beneficial position of entering the second annual Rugby Championship, also
featuring the Pumas, fresher than either the All Blacks or Wallabies.
Frankly, even at this faraway point there seems little sense
in Bok coach Heyneke Meyer playing absolutely full-strength sides for all – or
even any? – of the three June fixtures.
The “window” comes, after all, when many of the best Test
candidates are already feeling the debilitating effects of many weeks of Super
Rugby, and with the business end of that competition also immediately following
the June internationals.
He may be maligned in some areas of his philosophy and
game-plan but Meyer, to his credit, has always made it clear that he does not
hand out Bok caps willy-nilly.
And while it may look as if that is what he did to some
extent in his up-and-down first season in charge, the array of players he
employed was much more related to a severe injury epidemic than to any
knee-jerk reaction to adversity that was a hallmark, for instance, of the
Rudolf Straeuli era when all sorts of sub-standard journeymen got Bok call-ups.
What Meyer did do judiciously, especially on the end-of-year
tour, was establish a pretty decent “pool” of Test-quality players in various
So when the time comes to play the relative minnows visiting
our shores in June, he is not going to lose much in either strength or
credibility if he first assesses volumes of Super Rugby game time by his
personnel and then rotates them accordingly – probably without risking any
serious danger of shock losses.
Let’s face it, even a properly-picked South Africa ‘A’ team
could probably dispose of any of the Scots (minus a potential handful of Lions
representatives, remember), Italians or Samoans very comfortably in our own
Meyer will know, for instance, that a suitably-firing Bok
side should whip any of these three regardless of whether Beast Mtawarira or
Gurthro Steenkamp is at loosehead prop, Andries Bekker or Juandre Kruger is in
the No 5 jersey and Schalk Burger or Willem Alberts is at blindside flank.
Of course there is a case for fielding as “familiar” and
settled a team as possible for most Tests, but the squad system is also a huge,
inevitable part of the rugby landscape these days.
Unlike earlier this year, when Meyer was tackling his maiden
series against credible foes England and quite obviously desired best possible
troops, the June 2013 international spell does afford him the opportunity to
cocoon, to some extent, key figures with a view to their being especially fresh
and hungry for the Rugby Championship.
That is a blessing the All Blacks and Wallabies may not have
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