The chief rugby writer for Britain’s The Telegraph has played down suggestions that the Springboks will be undercooked for the Lions series.
Rugby journalist Mick Cleary is under no illusions that the Springboks will be ready and waiting for when the Lions touch down in July. He has explained in the Telegraph why he thinks the men in green and gold are so dangerous.
‘Never bet against the Springboks. Remember what rugby means to them. That ferocity, that desire, that deep-rooted sense of country and of self is at the heart of a Springbok’s identity.
‘Any suggestion that the Lions might as well be awarded the series is countered by that long-acquired knowledge that the Boks do not operate to normal mores of sporting behaviour when it comes to rugby.’
Cleary feels that the irrepressible spirit of South African rugby will even be enough to overcome what he considers as woeful preparation leading into the series. When push comes to shove, the Springboks deliver.
‘On the face of it, even that famed Springbok spirit would not seem to be enough this summer. Their preparation for the tour has been pitifully inadequate, to the extent that it is now over 18 months since the side even played a Test match. Their last outing was that game in Yokohama.
‘Even the players seem to have let their guard down, with captain Siya Kolisi recently revealing to respected South African journalist Craig Ray that he rarely watched northern-hemisphere rugby and had no idea what to expect from the Lions.
‘But wait a second. They ought not to have been a match for the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup final. They were not the best team at that tournament. New Zealand were. But when it mattered, as happened in Japan 18 months ago, they delivered.’
Cleary also points to the talismanic influence of Bok captain Siya Kolisi as another reason to not discount South Africa.
‘This [Springbok] generation is different. There is a more nuanced, sophisticated feel to their set-up, epitomised in the dignified character of Kolisi, an individual who suffered real deprivation during his childhood. South Africans, for all manner of reasons, some sporting, some social, are used to dealing with adversity.
‘Even Kolisi’s remarks should not be overplayed. In fact, it is heartening to hear – in this death-by-data era – that a player is content to focus purely on his own self, putting in the hard yards, doing what he has to do in order to go out and play his natural game. Kolisi knows his own body and, more importantly, his own mind.’
The number of Springboks performing for clubs outside South Africa may ostensibly create a situation of discordance, but Cleary argues the opposite.
‘That exodus could prove to be a blessing in disguise when it comes to getting the Boks ready for the Lions. From Faf de Klerk at Sale Sharks to Cheslin Kolbe at Stade Toulousain, there are plenty of high-quality rugby ex-pats getting hardened and honed for their one and only crack at the Lions.’
Cleary’s assessment could not be more clear: don’t write off the Springboks.
‘That is why we should pay little heed to reports that the Springboks will be undercooked. There will be a couple of warm-up matches against Georgia and that will be enough.
‘The Springboks are getting in shape their way. They will be ready for the Lions.’