The Springboks will not be withdrawing from the Rugby Championship permanently, but with the tournament probably being played in the same late winter-spring window, they will not be deriving any battle-hardened preparedness from it ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour next year.
And that could be a problem for the world champions, according to former Springbok captain John Smit, who led South Africa to victory over the Lions in 2009.
The tourists will be in South Africa from the end of June to August 8, which will put pressure on SA Rugby to organise warm-up games for the Springboks once the Pro16 ends.
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said on Thursday that director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was busy lining up three or four games which would need World Rugby’s permission.
“The absence of proper Test match action is going to be the biggest difficulty and the Springboks will have a new coach too, even though Jacques Nienaber was obviously a big part of the system before,” Smit said on Thursday at FNB Stadium where the announcement of Castle Lager as the sponsor of the Lions series was made.
“But we’ve had 13 Tests called off this year and a coach always worries that his team will be undercooked. There could also be an over-reliance on the 2019 group because of it.
“Franchise rugby will help, but Test rugby is a different level and the Springboks will need to be battle-hardened, so they will need warm-up games.
“We had one-and-a-half years after our World Cup win in 2007 to get into the groove and understand the Peter de Villiers way. The current Springboks have skipped a year, which is great for the body, but not so good for the systems or being battle-hardened.”
Smit added that playing the Lions was when he felt under the most pressure as Springbok captain.
“That week before the first Test was probably the most nervous I had ever been because you’re not sure what to expect and you know you’re up against formidable opponents,” he said.
“That’s why it’s so important to get the first ‘punch’ in. The ability to deal with the hype is so important and the current team have a bit of experience of that from Japan, but it’s really important that first week is good.
“Motivation will be at an all-time high and the uniqueness of the series adds to the hype.
“And beating the Lions is just becoming more and more of a challenge. They’ve beaten Australia and drawn with New Zealand in their last two series.
“The days of saying rugby in the north is not at the same level are over and both sides will have a massive amount to play for.”