Siya Kolisi congratulates Ross Cronje for scoring a try at Newlands. Photo: Phando Jikelo/ANA Pictures

The Springboks used to arrive in Europe like marauding Vikings, slaying all in their wake.

But that was then.

Recent years haven’t been kind and they’ve dropped, in performance, in the minds of the public and in the rankings. Last year was calamitous – they lost every game on tour – and this season was punctuated by the 57-0 horror show against New Zealand.

If not quite out on their feet, they will arrive in Dublin tired but resolute. There’s massive pressure on them to make right the failures of last year and to start demonstrating the sort of consistency elite teams ought to possess.

Ireland have come of age in recent years, fearing no one and producing favourable results, especially under Joe Schmidt, the grizzled New Zealander with a new-age box of tricks.

If there’s a warning to the Boks, it must come in acknowledgement of the 10 British and Irish Lions players in the Ireland squad. This lot can mix it with anyone.

The Boks are a work in progress, neither here nor there in terms of selection and execution.

The past year was a muddle of tactics, tight one match, loose the next. The pack allows us to be expectant, not least thanks to the emergence of brutish tighthead Wilco Louw, but that same excitement doesn’t extend to the backs.

The Boks have weaknesses at halfback, the centres lack balance and there’s a worrying look about the lightweight back-three, although this might ease if Warrick Gelant is given the job of fullback.

Ranked fourth, Ireland are one spot higher than the Boks, which seems right.

The Boks beat them in a home series last year, but the Irish did win a first-ever Test in SA and even claimed the mighty scalp of the All Blacks, something that has eluded the Boks in recent years.

Dublin, though, won’t hold any unreasonable fears for the Boks. Since readmission, they’ve played there eight times, with honours even at four wins apiece.

This ought to be the toughest match of the tour with France, Italy and Wales to come.

France are in a traditional pickle, unsure of their best starting 15 and, as ever, likely to fluctuate between glorious and grisly.

If the mood takes them, they’ll be a handful, but it’s been years since they threw a spanner in the works of a major team. Now, they rely more on reputation than reality.

Having whitewashed France a few months ago, the Boks will look to ram home the advantage on what is expected to be a chilly Paris night.

Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, so while Italy will be touted as dangerous, reality is much different.

To quote the late Colin Meads: “The team dietician reckoned pasta was the best thing to have. Ha! If that was true, the Italians would be world champs, but they’re bloody useless.”

The Boks were a shemozzle last year and had their noses bloodied in Florence.

Curiously, Brendan Venter sat in Italy’s coaching box that night, something he never felt entirely comfortable about. While he remains a consultant to the Azzurri, he’ll be in a green-and-gold blazer this time.

Weary Springbok bodies will then head to Cardiff for the season-ender. The temptation to ease off will be there, but that would be fatal.

Warren Gatland is back in harness in the Wales job, having abandoned the famous “Warrenball” approach, the one-dimensional game plan of crash-balling with big runners in narrow channels to free up space.

He showed a more creative approach with the Lions in New Zealand, and every indication is that he’ll try the same with Wales. Big Jamie Roberts has been kicked to touch, with more ball players available, allowing Gatland to be ambitious on attack.

He’ll be helped by South Africa’s lack of bulk among the backs.

It’s difficult to get a form line on Wales, but we’ll know soon enough – they play Australia next weekend.

The tour will be a mess if the upward trajectory is stalled.

Old values and a relentless attitude must return.

The Boks must mend the damage wrought by last year’s failures, not least because international rugby cannot afford to see a powerhouse like South Africa fall off the cliff.


Sunday Tribune

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