Test rugby is always a high stakes endeavour, but the series against the British and Irish Lions is going to be as tightly wound as the bobbins on the machines that used to stitch together the four panels that comprised a rugby ball, which is why the Springboks will be relying on the tried and tested experience within their squad, according to backline coach Mzwandile Stick.
The Lions’ last two Tests were a 15-15 draw and a three-point win over the All Blacks in 2017, and South Africa won the 2009 series through a five-point win in Durban and then the 28-25 thriller in Pretoria.
So while there is much excitement over the likes of Aphelele Fassi, Damian Willemse, Rosko Specman, Yaw Penxe or Sanele Nohamba pulling on the Green and Gold next month, Stick preached caution on Thursday.
“There’s going to be massive pressure and we have to make sure we build the confidence of the youngsters,” he said.
“We can’t just throw Aphelele, Rosko and Yaw in together. We’ve still got a guy like Willie le Roux, who has massive experience and understands what it takes at Test level. We want Aphelele to feed off Willie and not wait until he retires to be able to learn that stuff.
“The new guys are all asking good questions, interacting and training with the experienced guys, and seeing what stuff they do off the field to prepare as well.”
The curse of the Covid pandemic, and South Africa’s hard lockdown, means the Springbok management has also had to focus strictly on the conditioning of the locally-based players in order to make sure they will be up to the intensity of Test rugby when they step on to the field at Cape Town Stadium on 24 July.
“As coaches we were never lectured in a pandemic and I think the last one was in 1918! But it’s been a tough challenge for the players as well and we had to improve our ball-in-play time,” Stick said.
“We know at Test level that it’s close to 38-40 minutes, but in our Currie Cup we were averaging 26 minutes, so we needed to control the stoppages and what happens off the ball.
“Fortunately the standard has really improved, skills-wise too. We know the last time we played together was in the World Cup final in 2019, but the last time the Lions played together was in 2017, so both teams are in the same situation.
“Luckily our overseas players have had tough, physical competition week in and week out. And no-one is interested in excuses anymore.”