Boks’ US Test: Flawed ... but educative

2018-02-27 13:30
Springboks v Wales (Getty Images)

Cape Town - A sigh, a yawn ... perhaps I was far from alone in that being first, instinctive reaction to the revelation that the Springboks have had another Test commitment belatedly slapped onto their already punishing 2018 agenda.

Wales in Washington DC in mid-year? Hmm. No doubt they’ll want us to trumpet it as an historic occasion. (Ah, they do!)

Sounds more like an excuse for some marketing spiel, a quick television deal and maybe for a few suits to bank a buck or two in commission for their, er, well-meaning tee-up work.

That’s the cynical view, of course, and as far as I am aware there is also no statute against cynicism.

Those reservations are backed up on a practical, purely rugby-related basis, too.

For one thing, we seem to play Wales - sadly nowadays just those fellow mid-tablers on the World Rugby frontline-nation ladder - a helluva lot.

The last, slightly diluted meeting came as recently as December 2 (both teams are hardly averse to playing “out of the window”) when the notably under-strength Welsh pipped the no-foreign-player Boks 24-22 in Cardiff.

It was also the seventh time since 2013 that these protagonists, both yearning for halcyon days of pretty long before, had locked horns.

So make that eight, in just over three months’ time ... the squeezed-in fixture on a faraway continent coming a week before the Boks face three keynote home Tests over successive weekends against Eddie Jones’s England.

It will also occur just a week after another demanding round of Super Rugby matches featuring all four South African sides: the Sharks (especially concerning, in terms of time-zone debilitation) will have played the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, whilst the Bulls will have hosted the Brumbies and the Stormers had a punishing Newlands derby against the Lions.

Washington is a not exactly trifling, near-13 000km distance away from our largest city, Johannesburg, and up to seven hours behind.

Just imagine the fatiguing effect on a Bok party - if drawn largely from SA-based stocks, as is the norm - if they have to fly to the United States for the Wales date and then straight back for the first encounter against the English at Emirates Airline Park?

It just seems a crazily self-defeating exercise, in terms of bigger-picture thoughts immediately ahead.

Now, though, for the mitigating “but”.

Early hints from normally well-informed observers are that Rassie Erasmus, SA’s director of rugby who is fully expected to wear the Bok coaching tracksuit as well, will use the extra fixture to place a strong emphasis on the plethora of high-quality overseas-based Springboks (or at very least South Africans).

In other words, the core of his intended Bok XV for the first Test won’t even get on the long-haul flight to the US.

Yet by putting a short-term focus on the Boks abroad, he will effectively be able to gauge both desire and ability among that group, some of whom presumably might rocket into roles of some sort against England.

Under such circumstances, whether the Wales game warrants status as an orthodox Test match is a matter for earnest, justifiable debate - albeit that rotation of players, like it or not, has become a common feature of other major international sports like soccer and cricket and a team of largely foreign-based Springboks ought not to be lacking at all in classy names, when you think more deeply about it.

It is also far from the silliest thing in the world to be spreading the Bok gospel, if you like, at a time when Bok rugby needs to win over both new followers and some who may gradually have abandoned or watered down their loyalty during the stubbornly lean times of recent years.

As a former expatriate once based for four years in Hong Kong, I was among the naturally often homesick “Saffers” who used to latch hungrily onto the merest morsels of a South African sports presence in the local landscape ... such as the Hong Kong Sevens, and the Hong Kong Sixes cricket mini-jamboree.

Hundreds of thousands of often well-heeled South Africans presently live and work in foreign climes, and the United States in naturally far from an exception.

The “All Black brand” is increasingly (and yes, quite easily these days, given the ceaselessly winning culture) peddled outside New Zealand, rather Manchester United-like in the Fergie era, with successful Tests staged at venues far and wide on the planet.

Remember that rousing, November 2016 money-spinning encounter with a fired-up Ireland before 60,000 spectators in Chicago, when the Irish (by 40-29) ended the 18-game winning run of their heavily-favoured foes?

Look, we’ll be lucky if SA v Wales in Washington comes even close for captivating qualities, especially with the anticipated experimental flavour to the Bok line-up (Wales at that time of year might well be tired and under-staffed again, as well).

But warts and all, I know I will watching at the slightly unfriendly slot of 23:00 SA time on June 2, at very least with a sense of curiosity.

And that’s something.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  wales  |  rugby

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