Let’s say it like it is: if the Springboks win all three Tests on this month’s tour to Ireland, Scotland and England, it’ll be a massive, massive achievement.
If nothing else, it’s a big ask for the players to get themselves up after a busy, non-stop season with possibly the most excited group in the squad those men who may earn a first Test cap in the next three weeks. For the others, those men who’ve been to Europe in November and experienced the conditions and the, at times, dodgy interpretations by the referees, this is not a tour players dream about.
It’s a big challenge facing the squad, as history tells us, and making it a whole lot tougher this time is the fact Heyneke Meyer’s squad is severely depleted, missing up to 15 men who otherwise would be first- choice players. Also, the Boks – who departed South Africa last night – are under plenty of pressure to win after an erratic first nine Tests under Meyer.
Never completely outplayed, not even against the All Blacks in Dunedin, but never totally convincing either, Meyer’s Boks need to play well and win in Dublin, Edinburgh and London to keep the critics and doubters quiet. If they don’t, then Meyer – who was considered the “saviour” of the Boks after taking over from Peter de Villiers – will go into 2013 under immense pressure to win. Unfortunately for the Bok boss, conditions in Europe and a weakened squad will ensure the next three weeks are not easy.
One man who’s been on several November tours to Europe, Western Province Currie Cup-winning coach and former Bok backline boss, Allister Coetzee, says the biggest challenge facing Meyer is getting a strong enough and fit enough team to take on the best the northern hemisphere can offer.
“When one takes into account all the players who are missing ... it’s just a challenge to put a competitive team on the field ... and one that is, hopefully, a little settled. Getting the right combinations will be another challenge all of its own.”
And, of course, Coetzee says the fact the majority of the Boks will be tired after a long season and they’re taking on “much fresher” opponents will not favour the Boks, but he says every South African team will always believe they can win.
“Sure, it’s a big ask ... but the players’ mindsets will be right. It’s always a huge honour to represent your country and playing for the Boks must never – and will never – be taken for granted. So, while it’s going to be tough on the guys, it’s important they maintain high standards and focus only on winning.”
Coetzee says the other challenges facing the Boks on this trip will be the “changed” laws at the scrums and the quick use of the ball at the rucks and mauls.
“The interpretation by the northern hemisphere referees is always a little different ... so it might take a while for the guys to adapt, and they’re going to have to do that quickly.
“In the south, we like playing with quick ruck ball, speeding up the game, but up north everything is slowed down. It’s something for the guys to think about and consider.”
First up for the Boks next Saturday are Ireland and they’re followed by Scotland and then England. Coetzee says all three teams will pose a huge test for a depleted Bok side, but Meyer and Co should not look beyond the Irish.
“The focus must only be on Ireland ... on these sorts of tours you must do well first up, in that first game. A win gives everyone confidence and it gives the team momentum and that’s crucial at this time of year in Europe ... only then can the focus shift to the second game.
“They also mustn’t underestimate anyone ... the Boks have done that before and come second and let’s not forget that we’re No 2 in the world and for any of these teams to beat the Boks is a major achievement.”
At a glance
TheSpringboks’ results against Ireland, Scotland and England in those countries on their end-of-year tours since SA’s readmission to Test rugby:
Nov 6, 2010: Ireland 21, South Africa 23 (Aviva Stadium, Dublin)
Nov 28, 2009: Ireland 15, SA 10 (Croke Park, Dublin)
Nov 11, 2006: Ireland 32, SA 15 (Lansdowne Road, Dublin)
Nov 13, 2004: Ireland 17, SA 12 (Lansdowne Road)
Nov 19, 2000: Ireland 18, SA 28 (Lansdowne Road)
Nov 28, 1998: Ireland 13, SA 27 (Lansdowne Road)
v Scotland (all at Murrayfield)
Nov 20, 2010: Scotland 21, SA 17
Nov 15, 2008: Scotland 10, SA 14
Nov 27, 2004: Scotland 10, SA 45
Nov 16, 2002: Scotland 21, SA 6
Nov 21, 1998: Scotland 10, SA 35
Dec 6, 1997: Scotland 10, SA 68
Nov 19, 1994: Scotland 10, SA 34
v England (all at Twickenham
Nov 27, 2010: England 11, SA 21
Nov 22, 2008: England 6, SA 42
Nov 25, 2006: England 14, SA 25
Nov 18, 2006: England 23, SA 21
Nov 20, 2004: England 32, SA 16
Nov 23, 2002: England 53, SA 3
Nov 24, 2001: England 29, SA 9
Dec 2, 2000: England 25, SA 17
Dec 5, 1998: England 13, SA 8
Nov 29, 1997: England 11, SA 29
Nov 18, 1995: England 14, SA 24
Nov 14, 1992: England 33, SA 16