The form of key overseas Boks such as Cheslin Kolbe and Damian de Allende will give rise to increasing optimism before the British & Irish Lions series, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In the opening round of the Rainbow Cup, De Allende produced a Man of the Match performance for Irish club Munster.
A week later Handre Pollard returned to action for Montpellier. That same weekend, Pieter-Steph du Toit made his long-awaited comeback from a career-threatening injury layoff, with the loose forward completing an 80-minute performance for the Stormers.
Around the same time, Cheslin Kolbe inspired Toulouse to another Champions Cup final, with the French club ultimately crowned champions on Saturday.
With all this in mind, you could have forgiven Springbok head honchos Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus if they quietly had a little moment to thank the rugby gods.
They are sure to be feeling a lot more reassured than a few months ago – when most of their key players were either sidelined with injuries or had barely played.
Regardless of the inconsistent quality of local competition at times, the fact remains that World Cup winners such as Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Duane Vermeulen, Lukhanyo Am and Sbu Nkosi have all been able to get back up to speed.
Yet, perhaps even more encouraging has been the powerhouse performances we have seen from international stars overseas, headlined by De Allende and Kolbe in recent times.
The burly Munster centre has been a standout performer in the northern hemisphere, darting around defenders and delivering silky passes to complement his more traditional physical carries.
It’s a reminder of his class, and for a player who so often polarised the opinions of supporters, there is now common consensus that De Allende is one of the leading centres in world rugby
Similarly, Kolbe has consistently left rugby fans in equal measures of awe and wonder as he continues to produce magic moments for his French club.
Faf de Klerk and Eben Etzebeth have also been making an impression overseas, while the progression of other Saffas abroad, such as Cobus Reinach, Jasper Wiese, Jean-Luc du Preez, Joseph Dweba and perhaps even Raymond Rhule will not have escaped the attention of the Bok coaches.
Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi have been building up steam in the Japanese Top League. And now that Pollard and Du Toit are back in action before the British & Irish Lions arrive, you suddenly get a picture of a Bok squad that will have some serious menace to it.
All this without even mentioning potential bolters, while captain Siya Kolisi has been on a proper conditioning programme at the Sharks that is starting to reap big rewards.
So, while many suggested not too long ago that the Springboks would be undercooked heading into the Lions series, it’s become apparent that it would be unwise to write them off regardless of an absence from action that stretches back to the 2019 World Cup final.
In fact, as Lions boss Warren Gatland battled to secure the services of his first-choice coaching staff, while players such as George North (injured) and Ben Youngs (family responsibility) pulled out of the tour to South Africa, it’s the tourists who suddenly look to be on shaky ground.