Rassie Erasmus returned to work this past week after serving a 6src-day ban for criticising referees in the 2src21 series between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions.
Although Erasmus remains banned from travelling to Test matches until 3src September, he is free to resume his duties as director of rugby and to assist national coach Jacques Nienaber with plans for a 2src22 season that will lay the platform for the 2src23 World Cup campaign.
Since Erasmus and Nienaber returned to South Africa in 2src18, they have made it clear that this Bok side has three priorities: results, transformation and squad development.
Though results and the rate of transformation will remain important measurements of progress in 2src22, development with a view to the final Test of the season against England – and subsequently the 2src23 World Cup tournament in France – will be paramount.
Champs still have something to prove
2src21 was a landmark year for South African rugby. Nienaber’s team became the first southern hemisphere side to win a series against the Lions since 2srcsrc9. They followed up a rare away win against the All Blacks with a drought-ending victory against Wales in Cardiff. They finished the season as the No 1-ranked team in the world.
That’s not to say that the Boks didn’t fail or experience their fair share of disappointments. They struggled to find their mojo in the Rugby Championship until the very last fixture against New Zealand. They ended the season on a low note when they went down to England.
Fast forward to the present, and some of the coaches and players are still hurting after that 27-26 defeat at Twickenham. It’s fair to say that the two losses to Australia, the defeat to New Zealand in Townsville, and that near-miss against England leaves an otherwise accomplished group with something to prove in 2src22.
Barring injury setbacks, all of the top players should be available for the three-Test series against Wales in July, the Rugby Championship, and the first three games of the four-match tour to Europe in November.
The season finale against England on 26 November will fall outside of the international window, however, and the overseas-based Boks will in all likelihood return to their clubs in Europe and Japan. For this reason, the Boks will field a side largely, if not exclusively, composed of South Africa-based players.
The wealth of SA talent abroad
More than 5srcsrc South Africans are playing professional rugby abroad. North of 2srcsrc are competing in the top leagues of Europe and Japan. There are enough overseas-based South Africans with international experience in those tournaments to fill three Springbok XVs.
Since Erasmus and Nienaber joined the Bok set-up in 2src18, they have worked SA Rugby’s revised eligibility policy to stack the national team with overseas-based stars. As many as 17 of 32 players who toured the UK in November 2src21 were based at overseas clubs. That number would have been higher if Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz, Japan) and Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon, France) weren’t ruled out because of injuries.
At least seven overseas-based players featured in the Bok starting XV across those three Tests. Nine players who ply their trade abroad – as well as Trevor Nyakane, who has since transferred from the Bulls to French club Racing 92 – started against England at Twickenham, and a further five were on the bench.
Consider what a Bok team without those 15 players
…. to be continued
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