Bok opener looks less and less like Test

2018-05-08 17:58
Warren Gatland (Getty)

Cape Town - Ticket sales reportedly short of spectacular almost a fortnight ago, perhaps the scheduled Test match between the Springboks and Wales in Washington DC on June 2 just got even more challenging to sell in public interest terms.

The Welsh on Tuesday revealed their 31-stocked squad for the novel, neutral-turf exercise (and their two further Tests in Argentina) … simultaneously confirming, while deftly skipping saying so directly, that it will be well shy of best possible strength.

It is the second time in a row that South Africa play these foes just outside of a designated Test window period, the last time as recently as five months ago in Cardiff ... Allister Coetzee’s final game as coach and one which saw the Boks crash to a 24-22 defeat against a virtually second-string Welsh combo.

History is repeating itself in the last-named respect, as Wales will again go in minus a great many of their “cream” players.

Indeed, the Bok team they tackle is likely to be just as experimental - or “depth-building”, the inevitable, slightly hoodwinking description in these circumstances - as new coach Rassie Erasmus is unlikely to want to fly many (any?) of his intended troops for the first home Test against England a week later through a fatiguing sequence of time zones and back.

Rugby connoisseurs would be entitled to question whether the Washington clash really warrants full status as a Test; “international match” somehow has a more legitimate ring to it, even if that might truly be a kiss of death for box-office takings at the 46,000-capacity RFK Stadium.

Some consolation, I suppose, is that if both nations are going to use the occasion to “try out combinations” and the like, it could have some educative value in that respect to both Erasmus and opposite number Warren Gatland, both mindful that another World Cup will only be a further 15 months up the road.

There will be slightly less pressure on the pair - and more particularly Erasmus, of course, negotiating his first match in the post - given the knowledge that their intended most potent players are instead being wrapped in cotton wool for the moment.

But a genuine, top-drawer Test - in a bilateral tradition that stretches back to 1906 in Swansea - this certainly will not be, especially following revelation of the Welsh hand for it.

Gatland was seemingly at pains to stress that his squad will only contain one uncapped player (scrumhalf Tomos Williams).

But he also didn’t read us the small print, if you like: almost exactly half the group (15) sport a single-figure tally in prior appearances.

The Welsh are leaving behind the overwhelming majority of men called up (12 at the outset, a further four as later emergency cover following injuries) from their ranks for the memorable 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

Here is the swollen list of 11 absentees: Kristian Dacey (hooker), Ken Owens (hooker), Alun Wyn Jones (lock), Toby Faletau (No 8), Justin Tipuric (flank), Sam Warburton (flank ... and the Lions tour captain), Rhys Webb (scrumhalf), Dan Biggar (flyhalf), Jonathan Davies (centre), Liam Williams (wing) and Leigh Halfpenny (fullback).

Wales will also be without seven players - including some of the above - who started their last significant, properly blue-chip Test, the 14-13 Cardiff victory over France on March 17 which confirmed them as 2018 Six Nations runners-up to runaway winners Ireland.

The June 2 undertaking is not completely without merit, but in terms of Test matches as we most fondly, classically know them?

This clearly ain’t quite the real deal ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  wales  |  rugby


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