Many challenges for poor travellers Springboks in Europe

The Springboks, who have won five Tests and lost five this season, face England, France, Scotland and Wales on consecutive Saturdays from 3 November.

FILE: Ireland vs the Springboks. Picture: Twitter @Springboks.

JOHANNESBURG - Improving away from, finding an alternative scrum-half and picking more black starters are among the challenges facing South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus on a November tour of Europe.

The Springboks, who have won five Tests and lost five this season, face England, France, Scotland and Wales on consecutive Saturdays from 3 November.

South Africa have fared poorly in Europe since finishing third behind champions New Zealand and Australia at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, winning just two of seven Tests.

Among the five defeats spanning two visits were a thrashing from Ireland in Dublin and a humiliating first loss to Italy as they fell in Florence.

Last month, the Springboks achieved the seemingly impossible by defeating the virtually invincible All Blacks in Wellington, their first win in New Zealand since 2009.

But that totally unexpected triumph came after away losses to Wales, Argentina and Australia, with the disappointment of the results exacerbated by poor performances.

The Springboks have often battled in Europe because they struggle to adapt to alien tactics, heavy pitches, torrential rain, biting cold and partisan crowds.

They also struggle to solve problems set by teams there, like high kicks, with Ireland continually exploiting that South African weakness in Dublin last year.

"This tour to the northern hemisphere will be another test of the character of our team," said Erasmus, a former Springbok flanker who succeeded sacked Allister Coetzee this year.

"We are looking forward to facing the challenges posed by England, France, Scotland and Wales."

The coach has been criticised for relying too heavily on some players, notably scrum-half Faf de Klerk from English Premiership club Sale Sharks.

The blond half-back has played in nine consecutive Tests, starting with the dramatic triumph over England in Johannesburg, but is unavailable for the November tour.

Not only has De Klerk played, but Erasmus has been reluctant to substitute him until late in matches if at all, leaving replacements with little Test experience.


"I think it would be frustrating for any player if they are not getting a lot of opportunities to play," admitted sometimes replacement scrum-half Embrose Papier.

Although often the second choice behind Ivan van Zyl at the Blue Bulls, Papier could be first in the Springboks queue ahead of Van Zyl and Sharks captain Louis Schreuder.

South Africans long for a situation similar to that enjoyed by New Zealand, who have world-class performers Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara vying for the No. 9 jersey.

When Erasmus succeeded Coetzee, dumped after his teams conceded 57 points in successive matches against the All Blacks, he acknowledged the importance of racial transformation.

But after selecting up to seven black starters early in the season, only three were in the run-on teams that won and lost against New Zealand recently.

Injuries have not helped with prop Trevor Nyakane part of the 36-man squad for Europe having missed the 10 previous Tests this year due to injury.

Legendary prop Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira was not on the weekend flight to London, though, nor was promising centre Lukhanyo Am as both are injured.

Despite an agreement between SA Rugby and the government that half the 2019 World Cup team in Japan must be black, Erasmus is picking 80% white run-on sides.

"My target this year is that 45% of the players I select over this season must be black," he said soon after his appointment.

But in 10 Tests, the coach has picked 52 run-on blacks when his target was at least 70, and only four black forwards are among the 20 chosen to tour Europe.

Twenty-four whites were picked, 66% of the squad, which is sure to upset a government that wants the Springboks to better reflect a 92% black population.

For most of the apartheid era, blacks were barred from representing South Africa and forced to play in racially segregated competitions.