Bok Probables vs Bok Possibles?
THE first Test between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions takes place 10 weeks on Saturday, on July 24, and with so much that has happened — or perhaps not happened— on the rugby calendar since the 2019 World Cup final, you have to think that the team that will prevail will be the team that manages to squeeze in the best preparation.
We all know the Boks have not played a Test since beating England in that final, while in contrast the 37 players that make up the Lions squad have played plenty of matches for their respective countries but obviously none in the collective that is the Lions.
In short, the Lions have a pretour Test match against Japan, in Edinburgh, and then five matches in South Africa to sort out their match 22 for the first Test, while the Boks, as of yesterday, have two Tests against Georgia.
The South Africans have also been trying frantically to arrange matches against Italy and the USA but it looks like these have fallen away because of the Covid-19 protocols governing travelling players. It is understood that there was no issue with Italy and the USA coming to SA and going into two weeks of isolation ... the problem was their return home where they would have to again isolate and thus not be available to play for their clubs.
Another alternative on the table for Bok coach Jacques Nienaber is for a Bok Probables to play against a Possibles in one or two matches.
As said, the Lions play Japan, then the Golden Lions on July 3 in Johannesburg followed in quick succession by the Sharks, Bulls, SA A and the Stormers, with there being two games a week and no break before the first Test.
Lions coach Warren Gatland does not have the luxury of time to work out his best starting 15 and bench. Past Lions tours have stretched well across two months, this one will be finished in just over a month. Gatland has to hit the ground running, he has little room for error in finding his right combinations and then getting it match practice.
Perhaps the telling advantage the Boks have is that although they haven’t played for 18 months, Nienaber will be picking close to the same team that won the World Cup, and that side started coming together when Rassie Erasmus started coaching the Boks in June 2018, in the home series against Eddie Jones’ England. You would imagine that it shouldn’t take the Boks long to gel again once they eventually get together, and Nienaber will be praying that some practice matches among themselves and the Tests against Georgia will do the job.
So looking at the likely schedules of the Boks and Lions, who is going to be able to sandwich in the most effective preparation? Nobody can answer that with certainty and we will probably only know when the final whistle is blown for the third Test on August 7.