Rassie Erasmus has emphatically stated that his preference would be for a South Africa A team to face the British & Irish Lions in a rematch on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Monday, Erasmus fronted up to the media in a virtual conference, with the Bok squad having settled in Cape Town ahead of Wednesday’s game between SA A and the British & Irish Lions.
Erasmus has recently increased his frontline, hands-on role after head coach Jacques Nienaber was one of the members of the Springbok group forced into isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 as a widespread outbreak spread through the team camp.
With the first Test against the Lions fast approaching, Erasmus named a powerful SA A team to face the Lions on Wednesday, picking what is the strongest available team particularly when considering that some players remain in isolation and continue their recovery from Covid-19.
After this Wednesday’s encounter, the Lions were scheduled to play their final tour game by taking on the Stormers, who have been in a bubble since last Thursday.
However, Erasmus was particularly frank when stating that his preference would in fact be for two SA A games to take place against the Lions as the Boks clearly look to increase their match preparation for the Test series.
“We are trying really hard to confirm another game on Saturday … I don’t think our situation is so much to do with gelling at this stage, I think it’s match fitness, that’s our problem because if you do get Covid you need time to fully recover. So our match fitness, in terms of when some guys last played, is a bit of a worry.
“We want to ask for another SA A game because for me, and it’s my view, is that would be the safest option. We’ve all tested negative two days in a row, we’re in a hard bubble in Cape Town and no one is moving anywhere. The staff and everyone is negative, and it’s the same in the Lions camp.
“My honest opinion is that to play a franchise team, or even if we had to try and play against a side coming in, then I think the chances of infection are as good as we saw when we played against Georgia. Up until the Georgia Test we had only one positive case, which was RG Snyman.
“However, after the Georgia match we had eight management [members alone] who tested positive. I’m not pointing fingers at Georgia, but I think as soon as you bring teams from the outside in, it becomes a very tough situation to control. We saw that as well when the overseas-based players came into our camp, and although there were some false positives, that’s when we got infections. It wasn’t when we were staying in our bubble.
“After we played Georgia all our infections started, so in my opinion if the SA A team can play on Wednesday, and then another on Saturday, I think it would be best medically and in terms of player welfare, and also for the people watching to have two really good match-ups between the two teams.
“I’m sure Warren [Gatland] and the guys wouldn’t say no to that. So, if I could have my way, and we could ask for that, it would be fantastic. It’s not just up to me to make those decisions, but I’m going to beg until we find really valid medical reasons to say that’s not actually the safest option …
“I also think it will give us the best preparation to give good competition to the Lions, and I’m sure Warren would want us to be at full strength, and have good match fitness before we play the first Test. So can’t say I’m confident [about a second SA A match], but I’m hoping.”
Interestingly, however, the Lions held a media conference of their own at the same time as the Springboks on Monday, and the word from that briefing suggested Gatland was not in favour of playing a second SA A game.
With the Stormers having already been in a bubble for a few days and well under way with their preparations for Saturday’s clash, it’s understandable that they would be miffed if this weekend’s game was replaced with another SA A clash.
Meanwhile, on Monday the Boks were finally able to get through a field training session at the HPC training complex in the Cape suburb of Bellville, and Erasmus said there was obviously some lost time to make up for.
“Today is the first day we have been able to practise like a normal rugby game because we’ve had back-to-back days with no positive tests in the group of 34 players. We can scrum, maul and do everything now, but it’s effectively now like a Thursday before a Saturday game.
“Losing a week of training has been difficult in terms of keeping the rhythm and allowing the programme to flow. Now we will have to see how long the guys will be able to maintain the intensity in Wednesday’s SA A game after all this time when we have been stuck in our hotel rooms.”
Warren Gatland has just said that this wont happen. https://t.co/tR8zO6FImd
— Olly Hunter (@OllyHunter) July 12, 2021