Springboks

One big Bok advantage in Europe

2017-11-07 12:16
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The fact that some of their opponents will be coated in thicker-than-usual levels of rust potentially stands the Springboks in good stead in their imminent, four-Test challenge in the northern hemisphere.

Game one against dangerous, rightly-trumpeted Ireland on Saturday (19:30 SA time), in fact, looks like the fixture with the best chance of the tourists catching an opponent “cold” as it will be the host team’s first proper international as a unit, in many senses, since mid-March - some eight months ago - when the latest edition of the Six Nations came to a close.

You can more or less ignore Ireland’s June window fixtures - all comfortably won - when they tackled modest Japan away (twice) and the United States in a once-off in New Jersey.

But Ireland were also missing roughly two-thirds of their most regular personnel on that particular, fairly lightweight globe-trot, given that 11 Irishmen were included in the British and Irish Lions squad - who split a three-Test series in New Zealand - around the same time.

So it was an experimental Irish combo, with a healthy emphasis on gauging the potential future qualities of several rookies.

The last full-strength Irish side to turn out was the one which beat England (already confirmed as Six Nations champions) 13-9 at Aviva Stadium on March 18 - not the ideal state of affairs for them, even as many punters still see them as favourites to knock over the twice World Cup-winning Boks.

That situation is in stark contrast to the Bok roster in the period since then, which has involved three home Tests against France (all won), plus an entire six-match Rugby Championship campaign where SA came out third with an exactly 50 percent record (two wins, two draws and two losses).

In what has generally been a better season than the abject 2016 campaign under Allister Coetzee’s then-fledgling tenure, a feature has been the Boks sporting superior stability in personnel terms as well.

It is one good reason for hoping that the Springboks might yet have a stab at becoming the first since Heyneke Meyer’s 2013 charges to go through an entire end-of-season tour with a 100 percent record.

Having Ireland (one spot above them, in fourth, on the World Rugby current rankings) as first foes might seem an unfavourable development in some respects, but it is also advantageous in terms of the greater likelihood that the Irish will take a bit of time to strike up cohesiveness again after so many months apart as a unit.

By the time the Boks hit France in Paris a week later, the French - who last played against the very SA on our shores during June, being clean-swept 3-0 - will at least have had one major re-familiarisation exercise in the interim: this Saturday night’s entertaining of the world-leading New Zealand.

If that doesn’t shake off mothballs for Les Bleus, nothing really will, although the firm likelihood of a “difficult night” counter-balances that: they may well still not be a purring engine collectively by the time the Boks come to the Stade de France.

The Boks’ next opponents, Italy, have the advantage over Ireland, for one, in naturally not having had to sacrifice some of their major players for Lions Tour purposes during the June Test period, and they did have a couple of close-run internationals in that period (see stats below).

They will also have had immediate, preceding home Tests against Argentina and Fiji before facing up to a Bok side presumably hell-bent on avenging last year’s Florence upset - although by then the Bok tour group should be striking up some fair synergy themselves.

When the Boks close off the tour against Wales on December 2, possibly with “one foot on the plane” syndrome an impediment, their hosts should be relatively rust-free as they will have just played all of Australia, Georgia and the All Blacks in successive weekends.

But Wales also hardly had an ideal mid-year period of matches as they gave up 12 players to the Lions Tour and only played two June Tests with a second-string sort of side, against modest Samoa and Tonga respectively.

So from the point of view of gradual “spanbou”, as they call it in Afrikaans, the Springboks of 2017 should command a tidy advantage over all comers in the next few weeks.

Now it’s simply a case of whether they can make that count ...

*Here is a short statistical summary of their four looming opponents, from first to last:

IRELAND

Current World Rugby ranking: Fourth

Most recent results: June 24: beat Japan 35-13 (a); June 17: beat Japan 50-22 (a); June 10: beat USA 55-19 (a)

2017 Six Nations showing: Second (won three, lost two)

FRANCE

Current World Rugby ranking: Eighth

Most recent results: June 24: lost to SA 35-12 (a); June 17: lost to SA 37-15 (a); June 10: lost to SA 37-14 (a)

2017 Six Nations showing: Third (won three, lost two)

ITALY

Current World Rugby ranking: 14th

Most recent results: June 24: lost 40-27 to Australia (a); June 17: lost 22-19 to Fiji (a); June 10: lost 34-13 to Scotland (h)

2017 Six Nations showing: Sixth (won none, lost five)

WALES

Current World Rugby ranking: Seventh

Most recent results: June 23: beat Samoa 19-17 (a); June 16: beat Tonga 24-6 (a)

2017 Six Nations showing: Fifth (won two, lost three)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

 

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Fixtures
Saturday, 25 November 2017
Namibia v Uruguay, Windhoek 16:00
Georgia v USA, Tbilisi 16:00
Italy v South Africa, Padova 16:00
Scotland v Australia, Edinburgh 16:30
England v Samoa, Twickenham 17:00
Romania v Tonga, Bucuresti 18:00
Fiji v Canada, Narbonne 19:00
Wales v New Zealand, Principality Stadium 19:15
Ireland v Argentina, Aviva Stadium 19:30
France v Japan, Nanterre 22:00
Saturday, 02 December 2017
Wales v South Africa, Cardiff 16:30
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