End of Year Tour – Opportunity for Redemption

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The England vs Springboks clash at Twickenham is set to be yet another epic encounter. Photo by Stan Blumberg.

Morgan Piek – It’s that time of year again when the rugby starts winding down after yet another long season. With only the annual End of Year Tour remaining on the South African Rugby calendar, it’s time for our players to rest up for a little while before getting ready for the Super Rugby season.

What can one expect from the End of Year Tour? As with any other Test series it is of vital importance that the Springboks pickup much needed wins. Over the course of the next three weeks Heyneke Meyer’s men will have the arduous task of facing Ireland, Scotland and England. The Irish and Scots are without a doubt the two weaker sides, but as usual, they are not to be underestimated as both can cause the odd upset. It is a lesson the Springboks learnt on their previous End of year Tour when they played against all four home nations.

In 2010 the first stop on the road was Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. South Africa narrowly won that game 23-21 before heading off to Wales to face the Welsh in Cardiff. The following week the Springboks produced a much improved performance at “The Great Redeemer” to beat “The Red Dragons” 25-29. Albeit a four point margin, it was a great victory nonetheless as the Welsh were gearing up for a good Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

On the same day the Springboks were tussling with the Welsh in Cardiff, the All Blacks were busy teaching the Scots a lesson in rugby and convincingly thrashed the tartan clad men 49-3 at Murrayfield. Murrayfield was next destination for the Springboks. Springboks arrived in Edinburgh confident and in high spirits after beating both the Irish and Welsh in the previous weeks. What could possibly go wrong? After all the, the Scots were heavily defeated the previous week and the Springboks were still on track to complete the Grand Slam Tour undeafted.

The Scots had other ideas – It all started with the familiar, hauntingly beautiful Scottish National Anthem, The Flower of Scotland. It tells the tale of William Wallace’s forces beating the Edward the Longshanks’ mighty English army at the Battle of Falkirk on 22 July 1298.

On a typically wet day in Edinburgh, the Scots produced one of their finest rugby displays in the history of Scottish rugby and beat the heavily favoured and confident Springboks 21-17. It wasn’t a pretty game by any means, but the Celtic warriors bullied the Springboks the same way they were bullied by the All Blacks the previous week. Many Scottish hearts felt that this victory over the South Africans was as important to their history as Wallace’s victory over King Edward the 1st.

The Springboks left the Scottish capital for the English capital with their tails between legs to take on a very confident and as per usual, a cocky English team. Back home it was all doom-and-gloom and the calls for Peter de Villiers’ head came in thick and fast. The Springboks managed to refocus themselves and beat the Roses in a brilliantly played game at Twickenham. Historically Twickenham has never been a happy hunting ground for the men in Green-and-Gold and their stunning 21-11 victory capped off a very tough, yet somewhat highly successful Home Nations tour.

Two years on – with a new coach, management and a much depleted team the South Africans make their way to Europe again after a bitterly disappointing Rugby World Cup and a less than desirable 2012.

In the nine Tests the Springboks played thus far in 2012, Heyneke Meyer’s men only managed to win four games, along with three loses and two draws. It goes to say Meyer is somewhat under pressure and should not be pleased with his start to international rugby. However, having said that it is by no means a cause to panic and call for the man’s head.  The End of Year Tour is the perfect opportunity for Heyneke Meyer to get his record and long term vision of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy in 2015 back on track.

The Irish are not firing on all cylinders at the moment and have been dealt a heavy blow with the loss of their inspirational captain Brian O’Driscoll. Playing Ireland in Dublin is never easy as they are a very fiery and passionate nation. There should be no real problems. It would be great to see Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss playing against his former Cheetahs team mate and cousin Richardt Strauss, who has just received his call-up to the Irish side.

The Scots haven’t been playing good rugby since the days of Gavin Hastings. However, they will be a little more confident than usual after beating the Wallabies 9-6 earlier this year in conditions that could only be described as horrible.

The English are the English and always the most physical of the European teams. Next to playing the All Blacks and Wallabies, watching the Boks play the English is the most anticipated game of the year. The English would have taken a lot out the 14 all draw in their previous game against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth, although they will be wise to remember that they lost the two previous Tests to the South Africans on that tour.

It’s a very exciting tour lying ahead and with so many injured Springboks not being able to make the flight to the UK & Ireland, this series is the ideal opportunity to start blooding the youngsters that should be there in 2015.

With Johan Goosen out for the next few months and Morné Steyn not being in the best of form this year, one can’t help but to feel Pat Lambie should don the number 10 jersey. He is a very creative player and showed just that in the Currie Cup Semi-final and Final. He is a game changer, albeit the lost in the Final to Western Province.  Elton Jantjies is an equally good player, however Lambie is something special and next to Johan Goosen he is the best flyhalf in South Africa.

Raymond Rhule of the Free State Cheetahs has hit the rugby scene in a big way. Whether or not the 19 year old will receive his first test cap remains to be seen. However, he is without a doubt a star of the future.

Little bit surprised by the call-up of Marco Wentzel to the national side, one has to feel for player like Anton Bressler of the Sharks who has had a brilliant season.  Probably not the best lock in South Africa, however he plays very physical game that makes him ideal alongside Eben Etzebeth against the English.

With a reasonably good touring squad and raw talent, the Springboks should have a very good tour and one can almost view this tour as the beginning of our preparations for the next World Cup.

The fixtures for the End 0f Year Tour are as follows:

• 10 November 2012 – Ireland vs. South Africa, AVIVA Stadium, Dublin, Ireland.

• 17 November 2012 – Scotland vs. South Africa, Murryfield, Edinburgh, Scotland.

• 24 November 2012 – England vs. South Africa, Twickenham, London, England.

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