A spark in form from players such as Damian de Allende should give rise to cautious optimism as the Springboks build towards the British & Irish Lions series, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It feels good to discuss and debate national topics of conversation once again after nearly 18 months of inactivity for the Boks.
After the green light was given for the Lions series to go ahead in South Africa, planning for the series will now shift into the next gear.
Already it’s been announced that local players will head into a series of alignment camps over the next fortnight.
These sessions were a key part of the Springboks’ successful buildup to the 2019 World Cup, and the compelling ‘Chasing the Sun’ documentary provided unique insight into the behind-the-scenes brainstorming that enabled the Boks to be so successful in Japan.
Such alignment camps have been just one of the key planning strategies that have become collateral damage in a Covid-19 climate that has limited gatherings and travel, but the Boks will finally be able to gather for meaningful preparation talks.
There are also similar plans for Europe- and Japan-based players, with assistant coach Felix Jones hosting sessions in the UK and France, while Japan-based players will be taking part via virtual meetings.
With less than 90 days to go before the arrival of the travelling Lions, this is all part of putting together the necessary building blocks ahead of the highly anticipated tour.
And as Springbok head honchos Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus accelerate their preparations, they are sure to be feeling at least a bit more reassured then they would have been a few months ago – when most of their key players were either sidelined with injuries, or had barely played.
Over the past few months, though, South Africa’s leading franchises have been able to get through an extended Currie Cup, followed by a Preparation Series, and will soon enter the Rainbow Cup.
Regardless of the inconsistent quality of competition at times, the fact remains that World Cup winners such as Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Duane Vermeulen, Lukhanyo Am and Frans Steyn have all been able to gradually get back up to speed.
It’s a far cry from international battle readiness, but after the Rainbow Cup, the likes of these players certainly won’t be undercooked.
Yet, perhaps even more encouraging has been the powerhouse performances we have seen from international stars overseas, headlined by De Allende this past weekend.
The burly Munster centre was a standout performer in the Champions Cup, darting around defenders and delivering silky distribution to complement his more traditional physical ball carries.
It was a reminder of his class.
Similarly, Cheslin Kolbe has consistently left rugby fans in equal measures of awe and wonder as he continues to deliver magic moments for French club Toulouse.
Faf de Klerk and Eben Etzebeth have also been making an impression overseas, while the progression seen from other Saffas abroad such as Cobus Reinach, Jasper Wiese, Jean-Luc du Preez, Akker van der Merwe and even Jan Serfontein, will not have escaped the attention of the Bok coaches.
Then there’s Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Jesse Kriel, Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux who have all been building up some steam in the Japanese Top League.
If Handre Pollard, Pieter-Steph du Toit, RG Snyman and Lood de Jager are also all able to return to fitness before the Lions arrive, you suddenly get a picture of a Bok squad that will have some serious menace to it.
All this without even mentioning some potential bolters such as Cornal Hendricks or Ruan Pienaar, while captain Siya Kolisi is on a proper conditioning programme at the Sharks that could reap big rewards.
So, while many might think the Springboks will be underdogs heading into the Lions series, it’s recently become apparent that it would be perilous to write them off.