JOHANNESBURG - The good news is that the Springbok team that will run out against England in the first of three Tests at Ellis Park this weekend will show 15 changes to the side that went down to Wales on Saturday.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has little choice but to pick a completely different side for the one-off Test in Washington - which the Boks lost 22-20 on Saturday. The travel factor of going west and then jet-lag hitting coming back east early this week means the new coach had to gamble for the money-spinner in the USA.
By keeping 15 players back from travelling for the Wales game - to ensure freshness in the legs and minds - Erasmus has put his reputation, planning skills and the hopes of a nation on the men who’ll do duty against Eddie Jones’ England this coming Saturday and in the next two Tests that follow.
That is the positive to take out of the failed trip to Washington; at least the Bok team to face England won’t have 13 uncapped players in the matchday squad, the game will be on home soil, played in familiar surroundings and in better conditions.
Washington was a chance for players to stake a claim for the England series, but overall, they failed dismally. Judging the Boks - and the Erasmus coaching team - now though would be foolish. If we’re honest, it is the three Tests against England that matter most this June and after this weekend’s first Test at Ellis Park we’ll have a better idea of what we can expect of the national team under Erasmus’ guidance.
But, the defeat in Washington has raised the pressure levels. It would have made the non-travelling Boks sit up and think about where things went wrong and whether what has happened on and off the training fields so far this year all adds up. Because, after all, everything that went into preparing the Boks for Wales has gone into preparing the other Boks for the first England Test.
The playing personnel for this Saturday will change though - and significantly. The only two men who’ve yet to train with their team-mates are Montpellier-based Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis, who played in the Top 14 final - and lost - at the weekend. They’ll join the squad on Monday, when the homeward bound group from the USA also get back into camp. Erasmus will then very quickly have to decide on how to take on England and who to pick for the match.
He said between six and 10 players who took on Wales would come into the picture for the Ellis Park Test on Saturday, and that might still be the case, but it is doubtful anyone who ran out in Washington will feature in the starting team.
It’s a big week, as always, for the Bok boss and the team. The intensity will rise as Saturday draws nearer, but so, too, will the pressure. If last week was something of an introduction to Test rugby - in faraway Washington - this week will be the real deal; taking on England at what will be a demanding and very vocal Ellis Park home crowd.