Rassie Erasmus says he is encouraged by the form of many South African players who have been impressing in competitions around the world as the Lions series looms, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Friday, a virtual media briefing was held by the South African director of rugby and Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber in order to provide an update on the national team’s preparations for the fast approaching Lions tour.
The series will start with a clash between Warren Gatland’s touring team and the Johannesburg-based Lions on 3 July, but the day before the Boks will face Georgia in a warm-up match. This will be followed by a second clash against Georgia on 9 July, with the venues for these matches yet to be made public.
It is expected that the Springboks will field their strongest available teams in these warm-up games as they aim to ensure a battle-ready team can go into the first Lions Test with confidence on 24 July.
While Erasmus and Nienaber did not want to single out specific players before the squad is finalised within the next week, the question was asked about which newcomers had impressed during the preliminary alignment camp talks.
‘I can mention a guy like Salmaan [Moerat], who was doing really well and we were excited about that, but unfortunately it’s now touch and go whether he will be available due to injury,’ Erasmus revealed. ‘Similarly, [Sikhumbuzo] Notshe was just putting a marker down, but then got injured.
‘What I would say is that we are very fortunate to have players who’ve been in action all over the world. We’ve been quite restricted in South Africa in terms of international rugby [the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions were unable to compete in the overseas leg of the Rainbow Cup], and we couldn’t take part in the Rugby Championship last year.
‘So the local players have been playing a lot against each other, and then there are many others who have been getting exposure overseas.
‘There’s someone like Jasper Wiese, I’ll mention him, because he’s been playing very well for Leicester Tigers. Then we’ve seen guys like Rynhardt Elstadt and Cheslin Kolbe winning the Champions Cup with Toulouse.
‘We’ve had lots of players doing well in the Premiership, and a guy like Damian de Allende in very good form in the Pro14. So this has been really beneficial for us along with the local boys who have been getting a lot of rugby under the belt.’
Erasmus added that a 45-man player group – which will include the Springbok and SA ‘A’ squad – will be named on 5 June.
‘There are definitely a few young guns who are in the mix along with the older or more familiar guys. There is wonderful talent available to us, and many have been playing top-level rugby overseas. So that’s been very encouraging.’
After the SA ‘A’ game on 14 July, Erasmus also explained that the squad would then be whittled down to between 35 and 37 players.