Cape Town – The dangerous possibility of a “domino effect” from the distant Springbok exercise against Wales could come into play for Rassie Erasmus in his preparations for the first Test against England at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.
Eyebrows were rightly raised about the wisdom of travelling some 13,000 kilometres for an experimental – and his baptism as head coach – match in Washington DC, only a week after another bruising round of Super Rugby for most of his charges including a typically feisty Stormers v Lions derby.
Working with what was overwhelmingly a different batch of players, Erasmus apparently had only two proper training sessions with his “US Boks”.
So he had to leave behind his intended cream squad for a few days, to fly long haul to the Washington assignment, and now only resumes early this week with them – a situation not dissimilar from the mad scramble preceding the Wales date.
It could well mean that the more “premier” Bok team for the Johannesburg encounter suffers a similar, less than ideal build-up from a cohesiveness and polish point of view.
As it is, England could be said in some respects to have “beaten” the Springboks into match-prep mode in their own country, as they were already comfortably bedded down in Durban (their preferred base for a few days ahead of the Highveld clash) as a group on Sunday.
Yes, the Bok team he puts out for the first Test against Eddie Jones’s charges will be considerably less wet behind the ears than the crew engaged against Wales, but it is also not as though Erasmus can feel at all confident yet that his men will “click” to an agreeable enough extent to outfox the English – especially in the various, key positional combinations.
The team that was pipped by Wales in the dour US fixture had no single area on the park where players could at least claim franchise familiarity – unless you chewed on the fact that two Sharks players (Curwin Bosch and Makazole Mapimpi, the latter not that long employed at Kings Park) helped make up the starting back three.
But speculation around the line-up Erasmus will pin his faith in this Saturday – it will be revealed on Thursday – also does little at this stage to suggest Bok players are going to “find each other” with any special ease.
Especially if now domestically long-absent Willie le Roux (Wasps), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks) and Bismarck du Plessis (Montpellier) crack the run-out XV, they will all be establishing new area-specific alliances with others on the pitch.
Scrumhalf De Klerk, for example, may have 11 prior Bok caps beneath his belt, but all of them came in 2016 – which was also the complete write-off season for Handre Pollard, the flyhalf he is expected to be paired with on Saturday.
Le Roux, if chosen at fullback, looks like having the job of marshalling two complete Test-novice wings in S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi, from different Super Rugby teams.
Midfield will also have an untried look in combo terms, as Damian de Allende of the Stormers probably partners with the Sharks’ outside centre Lukhanyo Am, who boasts one prior cap as a substitute in Cardiff last year.
Most of the pack will also struggle for immediate telepathy, if you like, a situation only aggravated by such second-row figures as Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager (103 caps between them) not being available to the cause.
Trevor Nyakane also looks set to be thrown into a pretty hot cauldron as tighthead prop.
Although he sports as many as 37 Bok appearances, all but two of them have been off the “splinters”, and that pair of starts (against Italy and Argentina respectively) both came with him in his still more familiar role of loosehead.
One source of relative comfort would be if Tendai Mtawarira, in his 99th game for the Boks in Jo’burg, gets reacquainted with established hard man Du Plessis as his hooker at scrum time: they have started dozens of Tests together.
Biggest enemy of the Springboks this weekend?
For the second week in a row, it may well prove to be time: the undesirable lack of it in the lead-up.
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