South Africa have not played a professional game of rugby since beating England in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final and this has caused many fans have questioned the Springbok ability and have started believing that the Lions will wipe the floor with them this summer.
Although that might still come to fruition, there are still over two months until the first Test is played in Johannesburg. The Lions will have to do something special to completely blow the Springboks out of the water in 2021 and it can be argued that the South African rugby team deserves more respect as we advance towards the start of the tour. Here is why:
Strength in Depth
Choosing a perfect Lions squad to travel across the world for an eight-game tour is near impossible, especially when you consider that the team is picked only once every four years and there are four world-class nations to choose from.
At the same time, however, choosing a Springbok squad from the vast pool of current talent is no easy feat either.
Since lifting the Rugby World Cup in 2019, just three South African players have retired from the international game – Tendai Mtawarira, Schalk Brits and Francois Louw. Additionally, plenty of players have burst onto the scene in recent years and have pushed hard to earn a place with the Springboks.
When you think about the strength in depth that Jacques Nienaber has at his disposal it is hard to quickly disregard the Springbok ability as a highly dominant force. At second-row, for example, choosing your two starters for the test matches between players such as Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert and rising star JD Schickerling is no simple task.
At fullback, Willie le Roux, Aphelele Fassi and Damian Willemse are all players on top form and can certainly make an impact against the Lions.
For wingers, it is fairly obvious that World Cup winners Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe will likely start but behind them are just more brilliant wingers that can come off the bench when needed such as Rosko Specman, Sbu Nkosi and Seabelo Senatla, to name but a few.
Even outside of the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad the Springboks have a large number of players that have been performing consistently well domestically. Players such as Curwin Bosch, Ox Nche, Wandisile Simelane, Sikhumbuzo Notche and the Du Preez brothers are all examples of top players that would get into many big sides around the world but just have not featured recently on the international stage because former head coach Rassie Erasmus has already built a powerhouse team.
Saracens scrum-half Ivan Van Zyl and his Bulls counterpart Embrose Papier are two very competent players that more often than not miss out on international selection because the Springboks already have three even more impressive squad members in Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach.
Curwin Bosch, still only 23-years-old, has scored just short of 800 points for the Sharks in Super Rugby and Currie Cup games combined yet has only featured for his country on two occasions as Elton Jantjies and Handre Pollard currently occupy the fly-half positions in the squad. Veteran Morne Steyn has also been included in the Springbok alignment groups.
South Africa continues to produce a multitude of talented players year after year and being able to leave out names such as Curwin Bosch shows not only how strong they truly are but how strong their second-string players are and how good the Springbok ability can be going forward.
Of course, it is obvious that every Lions Tour is away from home in either South Africa, New Zealand or Australia, but it must be said that the Springbok ability is a formidable side at home. They last lost in South Africa in October 2018 after losing 32-30 to New Zealand at Loftus Versfeld.
Moreover, South Africa was victorious the last time the Lions toured there in 2009, winning the series 2-1.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, very few fans have been able to attend games in all sports. It has recently been announced that there could potentially be allowed up to 10,000 fans in the stadium for the Lions tour. Admittedly, this concept aids both teams as both sets of fans will be present but it gives an added boost to the Springboks to see supporters back in their home stadiums.
Current World Champions
Yes, it was 2019 when they won the Rugby World Cup, which to many feels like a lifetime ago. However, they are the reigning champions of the world for a reason and this has to be respected.
South Africa has shown that they know what it takes to win. They know what it takes to put a winning squad together and know how to grind out results when the going gets tough.
It must also be noted that they know what it takes to beat British sides, having defeated Wales in the semi-finals and England in the final. In fact, the Springboks boast a significant overall win ratio over all four of the home nation sides, currently beating England 26-15, Ireland 18-7, Wales 29-6 and Scotland 22-5.
This year has the potential to be one of the best tours in history. The Lions have picked a very powerful side full of players that have been in some incredible form as they come up against a very physical and well-drilled South Africa team.
The Test series is set to be a very close encounter. Either side could win it and neither team can be underestimated, especially when considering the Springbok ability and preparation.
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