Springboks desperate for game time before facing the British and Irish Lions

The Springboks during a training session.
The Springboks during a training session.
Image: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN/GALLO IMAGES

South Africa’s Test players must have at least 400 minutes of game time under their belts before they face the British and Irish Lions later this year‚ director of rugby Rassie Erasmus says.

The Lions are scheduled to tour SA for eight matches between July 3 and August 7‚ including three Tests against the Springboks.

Included in the itinerary is a match in Port Elizabeth between the Lions and an SA Invitational side at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on July 7.

Such is the interest in a Lions tour that a midweek game ahead of the Tests could attract a capacity 46‚000 crowd.

Uncertainty‚ however‚ continues to swirl over rugby’s biggest event for 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alternative options‚ including holding the series in the UK and Ireland or postponing the tour to 2022‚ are also on the table.

Erasmus highlighted how Springbok stars like Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ RG Snyman‚ Franco Mostert and Malcolm Marx had all played less than 100 minutes since last August.

The likes of Willie le Roux‚ Handré Pollard‚ Makazole Mapimpi and Jesse Kriel have played under 200 minutes‚ while Kwagga Smith and Thomas du Toit are under 300.

“Out of the squad of 40 players that we would have wanted to take to the Rugby Championship‚ there were still about half who would not have played 400 minutes‚” Erasmus said.

“I also don’t think that not playing in the Rugby Championship will influence our next Tests.

“How you played last year won’t affect form in the Lions series for example‚ that’s impossible.

“But I am worried that a lot of our guys came straight out of lockdown and when they got into action‚ they were injured straight away‚ like Handré and RG.”

Erasmus said it was critical to understand the context and consequences of SA’s hard lockdown in 2020‚ which meant players were unable to run‚ train or conduct any meaningful drills while confined to their homes for months.

“During the whole season‚ out of an average squad of 15‚ there were 8% positive [Covid-19] tests‚ which is about four players weekly.

That was during a quiet time.

At the peak‚ it went up to 20%‚ which was about 10 players per team.

“Out of 44‚ there were five cancelled games‚ which really isn’t a lot.”

Every opportunity will be explored to ensure the Springboks play the Lions‚ Erasmus says.

“We desperately want to play the Lions‚ and we will do anything to play them‚” he said.

“This series only comes around every 12 years.

“We sacrificed the Rugby Championship last year for player welfare‚ but also because we knew we had a big series against the Lions the next year.

“So if the question is put to us‚ ‘Guys‚ would you do X‚ Y and Z’‚ we don’t care.

“We will do anything to play that series.

“We will never‚ ever stop it (from our side) and that is why I think we will find a solution in the end.

“I want to‚ coach Jacques Nienaber wants to‚ the players want to‚ so from our side we’ll do anything.

Erasmus said they were continuing to plan for the tour to go ahead on the original schedule.

“The frustration is unbelievable that the Boks haven’t been able to play since the World Cup‚ but we know we can’t compare that to how devastating the impact of this pandemic has been‚ and how people have suffered.

‘But‚ yes‚ we will explore any option to play the Lions‚ we will play next year‚ we will play over there.

“This is the view from a player and management perspective.”

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