DURBAN – This November’s European tour is a great opportunity for the Springboks to strike psychological blows before the now rapidly approaching Rugby World Cup in Japan.
In two sensational Rugby Championship matches against the All Blacks, the Boks made a statement to the rugby world.
And now the trick is to kick on and strengthen their mental fortitude by winning matches on successive weekends in London, Paris, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
In recent years, the Boks have come home from tour at the end of November a dispirited lot.
It has become almost customary for the Boks to lose on these tours when previously they had been end-of-year romps.
The indigestible fact is that the Boks have won just four of their last 18 Tests abroad (including Rugby Championship matches).
An illustration of how it has been going horribly wrong on these tours is the Boks’ record against Wales, a country that was routinely beaten by South Africa for a century.
Wales have beaten the Boks for four matches in a row, one in Washington and three in Cardiff. The Welsh no longer fear the Springboks, particularly on home soil.
On Saturday, there is resumption of battle with Eddie Jones’ England, and the wily coach will be preparing his charges for the Bok team that played in the first two Tests in June, not the experimental Bok side that lost the final Test.
To that end, the English will be none too pleased to note that Duane Vermeulen will be back at No 8 after missing the Rugby Championship.
Vermeulen was their chief tormentor back in June, and will add a hard edge to the Bok loose trio, while his intimate knowledge of European conditions is of inestimable value.
Faf de Klerk, the other Springbok thorn in the English Roses, is unavailable, but instead of this being seen as a setback, it should be seen as the great opportunity it is to sort out this enduring business of the back-up scrumhalf.
Embrose Papier has the pedigree to make the grade... he just needs to be given extended game time. He played SA Schools in 2014 and 2015, and SA Under-20 in 2016 and 2017. Now should be his time.
The timing of the match against England, arguably the toughest Test on this tour, couldn’t be better.
England have not played a match since they beat the Boks in Cape Town in June and will surely be rusty.
By contrast, the Boks are battle-hardened, but hopefully not too battle-weary.
The dust has barely settled on their Loftus heroics, and they should be able to hit the ground running.
For the European sides, these autumn internationals against the Southern Hemisphere tourists usually see them hitting their straps only towards the end of the month.
Week two sees the Boks play a French team that is in a consolidation process under new coach Jacques Brunel.
They struggled in the Six Nations, losing three matches, but the Stade de France is always a tough place to play.
And they know that time is running out for them to get their act together for the World Cup.
Let's do this! The Springboks who arrived on Sunday morning in London had a nice gym workout to kick off preparations for the #CastleLagerOutgoingTour@MTNza @ASICS_ZA #LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/wlHoPJUIR4
Scotland are a team very much on the rise in world rugby. With their low playing numbers, a good Scotland team happens only every now and again, and this Scottish side is their best in years.
They are flourishing under coach Gregor Townsend, a quintessential Scot, and having been one of their best ever, he commands respect from the players.
This will be a tough Test for the Boks, but a fully focused Springbok side should, as a matter of course, beat Scotland.
The same goes for Wales. By the time the Boks hit the Millennium Stadium, it will be nine-and-a-half months since the first round of Super Rugby matches were played.
It has indeed been a long year for the players, but weariness cannot be used as an excuse by teams that are serious about trying to win the World Cup.