The general assertion seems to be that the UK’s best, having had more game time than the South Africans, are set to sweep the Springboks come the British & Irish Lions tour in June. It’s not that simple writes Oliver Keohane.
The British & Irish Lions, three months ago, carried more weight as a concept than they do now, following the Six Nations. It was very easy at the beginning of the year to figure that Eddie’s England would compromise the core of the touring Lions, with astute additions from Ireland and Wales primarily and the odd dot of Scottish grit. The mixed bag of the most recent Six Nations suggests differently though, with Wayne Pivac’s Wales claiming the title in a tournament that saw England beaten by Scotland, hammered by Wales and thumped by Ireland.
For all Wales’ dominance though, they were often dominant over 14 men, struggled to a one point win over Scotland, and beat Ireland by only a try. The Six Nations showed England to be the weakest of the British teams, Ireland and Scotland to not be separated by much and Wales to be the top tier. Yet this same Wales side still lost to a young French team who were beaten by the English side that everybody else was wiping out.
It would be fair to assume that the Six Nations has left selectors with more questions than answers ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour, and this is perhaps most pronounced in looking at the “Possible XVs” selected by past players and coaches. There is very little consistency among any of the possible sides, and quite frankly I haven’t seen one proposed team that poses a threat to a full strength Springbok side.
Bar Pollard and Pieter-Steph potentially, the Springboks come June should be at full strength. Siya Kolisi was solid in his return to the field and after a couple of rounds of preparation games, South African quality is is clearly coming together again. Our players still have the Rainbow Cup to prepare against their Northern Hemisphere counterparts and the possibility of international preparations for the Boks is likely with a game against the USA already looking set to happen.
For those complaining about the local quality of the South African franchises last year, first assess the conditions under which most of these matches were played (over the festive season and without crowds) and then consider the fact that the core group of the Springbok World Cup winning team have been excelling overseas for their respective franchises, most of which have been in the Northern Hemisphere, against the players who will be up for selection come June.
Had there been clear dominance from one of the British sides since the World Cup, and consistency in selection, I would be more worried about the Springboks chances – as they would be facing a cohesive unit, clear in their roles and structures. But that’s not the reality. The Springboks, without having even played a test, are in a better standing from a team and selections point of view than the British & Irish Lions who, let us not forget, will be playing in the Southern Hemisphere.