Rassie Erasmus believes the experience South Africa’s overseas stars have of regularly facing British and Irish Lions players will stand the hosts in good stead this summer.
The coronavirus pandemic has kept the Springboks inactive since England were toppled in the 2019 World Cup final, leaving their players devoid of Test action for over 18 months by the time they meet Georgia in two warm-up games.
But Erasmus views the presence at European clubs of key personnel such as Sale scrum-half Faf De Klerk, Munster centre Damian De Allende and Toulouse wing Cheslin Kolbe as an advantage given they will have regularly faced Lions players since triumphing in Japan.
“We haven’t had the advantage of playing in Six Nations and those kind of things to see our players in those top class competitions,” South Africa’s director of rugby said.
“But I must say the advantage we do have, for the first time probably as a result of our currency being weak, is our players playing all over the world.
“We are lucky there are a lot of guys playing at Sale in the Premiership, we are lucky there are a lot of guys playing in Japan in the Top League and a lot of our guys are involved in the Top 14. Damian is doing really well at Munster in the PRO14.
“The nice thing is that our old dogs, our big dogs, our guys who were mostly involved in the World Cup and who got better offers overseas, are playing consistently and against the British and Irish Lions.
“The nice thing is those guys are in form and on top of their games. And we have our local boys in South Africa who have been playing trials every week for a year-and-a-half, just playing against each other.”
And while members of Warren Gatland’s 37-strong Lions squad have competed in two Six Nations and an autumn campaign since returning from Japan, Erasmus insists his world champions will benefit from greater familiarity.
“The British and Irish Lions haven’t played together at all since their last Test together in 2017, so they also have that same sort of disadvantage as us,” said Erasmus, who has 30 of his 33-man World Cup squad still available for selection.
“We last played in 2019, so more recently than them. And we are all from the one country – we are all South Africans, we know each other.
“We haven’t played a lot together, but we are almost in the same boat as the Lions who have to put four countries together.”
Counting against the Springboks, Erasmus insists the benefit of playing at altitude traditionally against visiting teams has evaporated for this tour.
“It might be the first time that altitude will not play a role. Warren is such a clever guy, he has worked out altitude now.
“The first Test is in Cape Town and then we all move together to Johannesburg. The altitude is the same for everybody.”
South Africa will next month name a squad of 45 players to include the ‘A’ team contingent to face the Lions in Cape Town on July 14.
They will train against each other in a bubble with restrictions on movement enforced by coronavirus protocols preventing anyone from taking part in the provincial games.