Boks need to get back up to speed

As the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour looms, South Africa’s players will need to regain a physical and mental edge, writes former Springbok captain JEAN DE VILLIERS in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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It’s good to see that the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa will go ahead as scheduled next year. The South African Rugby Union as well as the tourism industry will certainly benefit from the matches staged around the country.

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The local players – most of whom have been waiting their whole careers for this opportunity – will get to tackle the famous composite side from the northern hemisphere.

That said, South African rugby will face a number of unprecedented challenges in the lead-up to the Lions series in 2021. While competitive rugby has already resumed in Australasia, and will restart in the UK and Europe this August, it remains to be seen whether the launch of a South African domestic tournament will be further delayed.

Indeed, as the weeks and months go by, one wonders how many Tests the Springboks will play this season. A worst-case scenario could see Jacques Nienaber coaching the side for the first time against the Lions on 24 July 2021.

Players must focus on controlling the controllables for the time being. There will always be external pressures and challenges, and players must accept that certain situations – such as the present crisis – is beyond their control.

South Africa’s players will return to play far later than their international counterparts. As a result, they will have some catching-up to do with regards to conditioning and team synergy. If the Rugby Championship does go ahead this year, the All Blacks and Wallabies will have an advantage over the Boks in these respects.

There’s nothing the South African coaches and players can do about that, though. It’s best that they focus on the building towards a bigger goal.

It’s encouraging to think that the Boks came together in early 2018 and managed to turn things around in the space of 18 months. They were faced with a number of challenges, and time was certainly against them, yet that process culminated in the team winning the World Cup. Now we’re going to see them preparing for a Lions series in under 12 months.

How can they make the best of the situation? As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I’d love to see everyone involved going all out to make this domestic competition one to remember.

We saw how the New Zealand public responded in the early rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa this past June. It would be great to see the South African fans – when the circumstances allow it – coming out in their thousands to support local sides stacked with Boks.

Those domestic matches will be about so much more than results. They will double as national trials. All six franchises will be involved, and where possible, the powers that be should look to strengthen the weaker teams.

If the Kings, for example, can’t field a competitive side, why shouldn’t a third- or fourth-choice player from another franchise join the Eastern Cape squad on loan? Ultimately we should be using this competition to give all of South Africa’s best players as much game time as possible.

Collectively, we should be looking to regain our physical and mental edge after months away from the game. We must show the world that we have the drive and skills to be a force, regardless of the challenges that come our way.

*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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Photo: Action-Images Jason O’Brien/via Gallo images