DURBAN - It is 16 months since the Springboks won the World Cup, and it will be another four before they play a Test match again – the first of three against the British & Irish Lions.
That seems way too long for the Boks to be competitive against the tourists, especially seeing as the Six Nations has just finished and, late last year, the composite unions of the Lions played another series between themselves.
If I can give one reason why that doesn’t necessarily mean the Boks are no-hopers, it is the extraordinary events that transpired during the Rugby Championship in Australia last year when Argentina shocked the All Blacks and drew with the Wallabies.
The prediction for the Pumas was massive hidings given that none of their players had been in action since the Jaguares ceased playing in March last year, when Super Rugby was shut down.
The Argentine players went from playing no rugby for six months to beating the All Blacks, whose players had just finished a highly competitive Aotearoa Cup.
The only rugby the Pumas had prior to that epic victory was two warm-up matches against Aussie composite sides, following intensive internal camps.
Argentina’s win proved that you don’t have to have a convoluted build-up to a big series to be successful. Sometimes less is more and it allows you to be more heavily focused.
And the Boks will be in a much better position than the Pumas in that the SA players are actually playing, and many of them very well. Each week we see players that starred for the
Boks in Japan doing the same for their European clubs.
To give just one example, over the last year or so Eben Etzebeth has become a folk hero in France, and Cheslin Kolbe continues to enjoy that status. There are also a sprinkling of players in Japan, such as Makazole Mapimpi, Malcolm Marx and Willie le Roux, who are impressing.
Our home-based Boks have not been too shabby either. Duane Vermeulen has been immense, cleaning up just about every award on offer. World Cup final front-rankers Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Bongi Mbonambi are playing well, and Lukhanyo Am is back in form at No 13 for the Sharks.
The significant development is that Siya Kolisi debuted for the Sharks last week after a difficult year of injuries, and I am certain he is entering a new lease on life, and come the Lions he will be in the best form of his life.
There are two major concerns in the horrific injuries sustained by Handre Pollard and Pieter-Steph du Toit, but they are on course for comebacks.
In short, Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will have the same squad that won the World Cup and by July the Boks will have had their camps and their warm-up games, and there is every chance they can pick up where they left off in Japan.