Boks brace for June ‘juggling act’

Rassie Erasmus admits that the Springbok management team will need to think outside the box with regard to its planning and selections this June. JON CARDINELLI reports.

The Boks will host England in three Tests this June. A series win against Eddie Jones’ side – who were at No 2 in the world rankings prior to the 2018 Six Nations – would mark the perfect start to Erasmus’ tenure as coach.

The Boks will have to clear another hurdle before facing England, though. South Africa will play Wales in Washington DC on 2 June in what is effectively an exhibition game.

On Wednesday, Erasmus confirmed that plans have been put in place to ensure the Boks perform across all four Tests. He admitted that there will be a few challenges with regard to the management of players, and that the side that fronts Wales may differ to the team that plays England in the first Test.

‘The Wales Test has been organised for two reasons. The first is for SA Rugby to make a bit of money, which will help keep our players in South Africa. The other reason is to have another Test before the World Cup in 2019,’ Erasmus said.

‘We don’t have a lot of time to prepare the team, so having one extra match where we can experiment is a good thing. I spoke to the Welsh coaches at a recent World Rugby meeting and they will probably also use the match to experiment.

‘I don’t think one Test is more or less important than another and we won’t be picking an “A” side or a “B” side,’ he added. ‘We will pick two equally strong teams.’

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Many of the South African players based at overseas clubs won’t be available for the clash against Wales, as the Test falls outside of the World Rugby-sanctioned window. Erasmus said that the Sharks players competing in the Super Rugby match against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on 25 May are unlikely to feature.

‘The plan is to travel to the USA late in the week so we can have a few days of training with a bigger squad of about 40 guys. We will have sessions on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and then the guys playing the game will go over.

‘Then, when they return, we will keep a big group and later cut it down to 30 or 31 players as per World Rugby regulations. It is a little bit of a juggling act and mixing and matching, but Wales will do the same because they are likely to have a team in the Pro14 final.’

Erasmus said that the challenge of facing England at home will be very different to what they may experience in the fixture against Wales in the USA.

‘England play the suffocate-and-strangle game, which Eddie Jones coaches well. We have plans in place but the challenge for us is to see how quickly we can get the guys to buy into the plan. The opposition will be a determining factor in our selections.’

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The Bok coach brushed aside suggestions that England will bring a weakened squad to South Africa. Jones’ team is coming off three straight losses and is under pressure to perform in the series against the Boks.

‘It would be really brave to send a young team over after losing three games in a row,’ said Erasmus. ‘If you go on to lose five [in a row], your job is under pressure.

‘You can see what Eddie is trying to do currently with that New Zealand flanker Brad Shields [who may be released from his Hurricanes contract so that he can join England for the tour]. It shows that Eddie wants to send a strong team over. Every coach is under pressure to win matches.’

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Jon Cardinelli