As you read this, the Springboks are already in damp and chilly London, ensconced in the Royal Garden Hotel in central Kensington.
From their rooms they will have “panoramic views of Kensington Palace and Gardens, Hyde Park and be only minutes away from the capital’s most popular tourist attractions.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it? A luxury hotel in the heart of one of the world’s great cities with the opulent shop windows dazzlingly dressed for Christmas; nice weatherproof kit to keep you warm as the northern winter sends temperatures plummeting.
However, it is everything but. Most of the team left before the Currie Cup Final and those who sweated it out at Newlands, including “new caps” JD Schickerling, Sergeal Petersen and Ruhan Nel, rushed to the airport for the overnight flight to England.
Such is the intensity of modern rugby that Siya Kolisi and his men will have hardly any time to acclimatise before they take on England at Twickenham on Saturday followed in rapid succession by criss-crossing trips to play France, Scotland and Wales.
From the sauna-like conditions at Newlands and the heatwave in Stellenbosch, where the larger training group prepared, to near-zero temperatures requires a massive adaptation but more so because Rassie Erasmus will have to nurse those who went all the way to the Currie Cup Final.
Like the northern hemisphere players who come here in June, South African players are battered and fatigued by the time the end-of-year tour comes round.
This was a point tellingly made by WP coach John Dobson while discussing his team’s lineout woes in the Final. “Bongi (Mbonambi) could have pushed on, but he was pretty stuffed at half-time.”
Not only does that give an idea of the juggling Erasmus will have to do to have as sharp an edge as possible in the Test match 23s, but also focuses attention on the unfathomable absence of Armand “Akker” van der Merwe – the man of the match in the Final and arguably the Currie Cup player of the season.
To my mind, it says that the Springbok team was, in fact, picked before the Final and that Erasmus had already committed to having Schalk Brits as his third-choice hooker.
As with most Springbok teams, there were others who were unlucky. Fortunately for the coach, he is far away from the flak and able to get down to the business of beating England and the others, and creating the momentum needed to set the Boks up for 2019.
Eddie Jones has already made a little gibe about the Springboks being “pretty simple to beat” and, even though his words were taken out of context, the Currie Cup Final provided some substance to what he was driving at.
Jones has studied the Springboks for years and has a pretty good idea of how to beat us. In the June Tests his team twice built big leads only to be overtaken by the Boks, but at Newlands in the final Test they won comfortably.
As far back as the World Cup in France in 2007, Jones – who, ironically, was with the Boks as Jake White’s assistant because Erasmus had cried off – told me that one of the things he had worked on to eliminate was South Africa’s predictability.
And he would have allowed himself one of his smirky smiles when he watched the tape of the Newlands final as Natal stuck to their game plan of challenging every lineout ball, holding their own in the scrum, rush defence and kicks in behind.
Western Province failed to adapt – constantly sending the ball to one-off forward runners, taking the ball standing, and devoid of ploys to get the Sharks “out of their faces.”
“Ah,” Jones would have thought, “they’re still stuck in the rut” – hence his view that “you’ve got to take them on up front and then when you get opportunities to score points you’ve got to score them. They play the traditional Springbok game up front and then move the ball wide when they need to.”
It’s an old Australian ploy to try to taunt a side into playing an expansive game to which they’re unaccustomed, but while Erasmus is too shrewd to take the bait one also hopes to see more variation from the Springboks.
Hopefully they’ve been working on tactics to disguise the receiver of the ball, to subtly shift the thrust of an attack, to allow Handré Pollard to run the game rather than having forwards in his way and to kick the ball (chips over the top, into the corners, pressure relieving touch-finders) when necessary.
Erasmus will be without his starter motor, Faf de Klerk, but will still be able to select a brute pack and a backline with enormous potential. Jones might well be surprised at how the Boks’ defence has come on.
And, oh yes, not being that au fait with SARU machinations these days, who’s in and who’s out, if I were sitting in the foyer of the Boks’ upscale hotel I’d be looking out for a tall, fair-haired hulk walking through the door – Johan Ackermann, now of Gloucester, who no doubt has quite a bit he can pass on to the Boks.
I wonder whether he’s been invited for a cuppa?