World champion Springboks set to end COVID exile
The Siya Kolisi-captained Springboks last played on 2 November 2019, when they thumped England 32-12 to lift the Webb Ellis trophy a record-equalling third time.
JOHANNESBURG - Rugby World Cup winners South Africa will end 19 months of international isolation on Friday when they host Georgia in a warm-up match before a three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
The Siya Kolisi-captained Springboks last played on 2 November 2019 when they thumped England 32-12 to lift the Webb Ellis trophy a record-equalling third time.
After nationwide celebrations, they were scheduled to play 13 matches last year - six at home and seven away - but the coronavirus pandemic prevented any of them taking place.
Kolisi and his green and gold team-mates were forced to watch the other major rugby nations competing in the Rugby Championship and Six Nations while they were restricted to domestic fare.
Now, although South Africa is battling a third COVID-19 wave, the Springboks can look forward to 14 Tests in five months from July to November.
In a famine-to-feast situation, the Springboks will play on five consecutive Saturdays from 24 July, tackling the Lions three times, and Argentina twice in the Rugby Championship.
South Africa then play two matches each in Australia and New Zealand during September and October before November Tests in Wales, Scotland and England.
It is a hugely challenging schedule with the All Blacks chomping at the bit to regain their dominance over arch rivals the Springboks.
"We just want to play international rugby again," said national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who coached South Africa to World Cup glory two years ago.
"It was so depressing last year as one international after another was cancelled and we could not compete in the Rugby Championship because the team lacked sufficient game time.
"Had it not been possible to host the Lions, we would have been prepared to play them anywhere in the world."
After the triumph over England, Erasmus switched from coach to his original director role, opening the way for defence expert Jacques Nienaber to become head coach.
Nienaber was officially appointed on 24 January 2020, but had to wait until this month before conducting his first Springboks training session.
July 2: Georgia, Pretoria
July 9: Georgia, Johannesburg
July 24: British and Irish Lions, Cape Town
July 31: British and Irish Lions, Johannesburg
August 7: British and Irish Lions, Johannesburg
August 14: Argentina (Home, TBC)
August 21: Argentina (Home, TBC)
September 11: Australia (Away, TBC)
September 18: Australia, Brisbane
September 25: New Zealand, Dunedin
October 2: New Zealand, Auckland
November 6: Wales, Cardiff
November 13: Scotland, Edinburgh
November 20: England, Twickenham