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
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
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
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
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:
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)
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)
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)
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