JOHANNESBURG – What do the Sharks, Bulls and Lions have in common in relation to Buenos Aires and the Jaguares? They’ve all travelled to Argentina this season and lost. The Stormers still have to go there, after the June break, but the way things have gone in Super Rugby recently they’re not likely to buck the trend.
South African rugby fans and new coach Rassie Erasmus, though, will hope the Springboks get right in the west what the Super Rugby sides haven’t managed to do, and that is win.
Sure, the Boks have gone to North America - and specifically Washington - this weekend, unlike the Super Rugby teams who travel to the south, but both trips “go back in time”; Washington and Buenos Aires being six and five hours behind South African time.
Erasmus admitted this week - ahead of his first Test in charge of the national team since becoming Bok coach, against Wales on neutral territory in the USA - that a huge test awaited his young team tomorrow.
Thirteen of the match-day squad of 23 have yet to play Test rugby and while they’d be excited to go to the USA - many of them for the first time - the travel factor and facing the “unknown” in Wales in a first ever Test match, for most, made it extra challenging.
Firstly, the flight, from Johannesburg, via Accra in Ghana, to Washington, would have taken close to 18 hours; the team having left South Africa on Wednesday night and arrived in the USA some time on Thursday - just two days before their match at the RFK Stadium.
“Leaving so late in the week had nothing to do with logistics or jet-lag or time zone challenges,” explained Erasmus before he jetted off with his squad in midweek.
“We didn’t want to travel last Sunday, just a day after the last round of Super Rugby matches. We decided we didn’t want to lose two additional days of having the whole squad together that’s two extra training days.”
Erasmus added that while the flight west might “catch” his team, they had taken precautions. “It will catch us but the way we want to play and way we use our subs will be important,” he said.
“We know what we’re in for, there can be no excuses, but this is also about the players’ mental toughness.
“On the medical side, our doctor and the staff will do their thing, like giving the players sleeping tablets all those things are in place... we will just have to handle it.”
Of course, Wales are also travelling west and all the factors that will hit the Boks will also probably hit the Welsh.
Erasmus has had to “box clever”, knowing, too that the travel factor - or jet-lag - usually affects the players worse when coming back east, to South Africa. All the Super Rugby coaches have spoken about it in recent times, when returning from their trips to Argentina.
It is for this reason Erasmus opted to pick a bigger than normal squad, to ensure the bulk of the men who’ll be in action in the first Test against England in Joburg next Saturday, are fresh, fit and not travel-weary come next week.
But, as Erasmus has said, there will definitely still be between seven and 10 players travelling to the USA who’ll be part of the matchday squad next week, most probably the bench-sitters, in most cases.
Tomorrow’s match in Washington kicks off at 11pm SA time. The Boks arrive back in Joburg around lunch-time on Monday.