A potential warm-up Test against Wales at Twickenham would echo Rassie Erasmus’ first match in charge of the Springboks six years ago in Washington DC, writes DYLAN JACK.
The Springboks are set to include a surprise return to Twickenham in their schedule for 2024, with the June-slated Test against the Dragons marking Erasmus’ return to the head coach hot seat.
If given the green light, this clash would hold a special significance, echoing back to Erasmus’ first match at the helm against the same opponent in Washington DC in 2018, a match that featured a plethora of future World Cup winners.
It would also see the Springboks return to the venue of one of their great modern performances, a record 35-7 demolition of the All Blacks in last year’s final World Cup warm-up.
The result of the 2018 encounter was nothing to write home about, as Wales pounced on one of a plethora of errors to snatch a 22-20 victory.
However, in retrospect, the future of Springbok rugby was on display that evening.
No fewer than 11 of that matchday 23 are sitting today with World Cup winner’s medals around their necks. Pieter-Steph du Toit captained the team, which included debutants Ox Nche, Kwagga Smith, Makazole Mapimpi, Andre Esterhuizen, Thomas du Toit and Marvin Orie. Outside centre Jesse Kriel, playing his 30th Test, was the second-most experienced player in the lineup, followed by loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff.
At the time, Erasmus inherited a Springbok team in transition, seeking to reclaim their status as a dominant force on the global stage after two of their darkest years. Despite the result, Erasmus, took some crucial insights into the character, resilience, and talent of his players as most of the above mentioned played in both the 2019 and 2023 World Cup triumphs.
Fast forward to the present, and the upcoming warm-up Test against Wales represents a full-circle moment for Erasmus and his charges.
Now the undisputed champions of the world, having won a record fourth World Cup title in Paris, the Springboks are in a different space to the one that they were in when they ran out at the Robert F Kennedy stadium.
Only seven of the 23 that faced the All Blacks in the World Cup final did not have at least 50 Test caps to their name. The squad is experienced, settled and knows how to win when it matters.
However, at the same time, the Springboks find themselves at a pivotal juncture, navigating the challenges of sustaining success while simultaneously ushering in a new era of talent that can go to 2027 and beyond.
Plus, there will be at least two new faces in the coaching staff, with Jacques Nienaber and Felix Jones departed and set to be replaced by Jerry Flannery and Tony Brown respectively. Brown’s appointment, in particular, points to a shift to a more dynamic, innovative attacking structure.
Twickenham is the ideal place for Erasmus to start planting some seeds that may not bloom immediately, but could provide the Springboks with a fresh boon when they travel to Australia in four years’ time.
In that respect, don’t be surprised if the teams that face Wales and Ireland – in the two-Test series in July – have a very different feel to them. The winning pressure will be on when the Springboks host the current Six Nations title-holders, so Erasmus would understandably turn to the players – and the gameplan – that have done the business for him.
Still, as it did in Washington, the Test against Wales could provide insight into the future of Springbok rugby.
Photo: Scott Taetsch/Gallo Images