Will the Springboks be match fit in time for Lions Series?

By the time the Springboks take on Georgia in a friendly on the second of July in South Africa, it would have been twenty months since the home nation last played a professional fixture.

If you’re currently racking your brains to work out when that last was, get ready to be blown away.

Before the start of the international winter fixtures in South Africa this season, the last time the Springboks played was on the 2nd of November 2019 during the World Cup final with England.

That’s right, it’s either a day you have tried to forget or a day you will remember forever depending on where your allegiances lie. Either way, it is truly astounding that it has taken this long for the current rugby World Cup champions to be in action again.

Needless to say, it has been far from the ideal preparation for the global topping ‘Boks, as they get ready to host the British and Irish Lions in their duodecennial series after just two friendlies against Georgia – the 12th best nation in the world.

In contrast, all of the Lions players would have competed in two intense Six Nations campaigns since the 2019 World cup as well as numerous friendlies.

Without a doubt, there are few more prestigious tours in world rugby than the Lions one, and so the fact that the host nation has been so unprepared is a legitimate worry as far as a competitive spectacle goes. Although the latest odds suggest it is still likely to be a tightly contested affair

As things stand, the rugby union betting for the Lions series has priced the touring party as favorites at 8/11 (-137.49) to win it, whilst South Africa lags behind slightly at just 6/5 (+120). These odds seem to indicate that the South Africans would have been able to build up a degree of match fitness before the two teams go head-to-head in Cape Town at the end of July, but will ultimately still go on to lose the three-match series.

Whatever the outcome may be, the fact that the prediction is for fine margins to decide the three-match series is a positive one for both teams -  as well as the neutrals.

For what it’s worth, the most recent three-match tour between the Lions and South Africa in 2009 was won by the Boks 2-1. Although, the visitors did go out on a high after winning the third Test at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

On that occasion, South Africa was also the reigning World Cup champions after beating England in the final at the Stade de France less than two years previously. The big difference this time around is that South Africa no longer takes part in the Super 14 tournament after pulling out this year. Had they not taken that decision, the South African players would have been able to participate in competitive club rugby up  until virtually the eve of the first Test against the Lions.

Despite these impediments, it should be said that the Springboks do have a contingent of players who have been competing in European leagues, and will make the journey back to the rainbow nation for the contest. However, the vast majority of Rassie Erasmus’ squad  will be relying on keeping fit in training camps in the lead-up.

When all is said and done, there really is no substitute for match fitness, and deep down, the Springbok hierarchy will know as much.

Beating the British and Irish Lions is going to be a monumental task, but this is a nation that has a history of overcoming the most incredible odds.