Springboks' pre-Lions tour opposition revealed
BREAKING NEWS: The World Cup-winning Springboks will signal their return from international rugby exile by taking on the United States Eagles at home – in a warm-up match for the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
The Eagles, who like South Africa, have not played a Test match since the 2019 World Cup due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will also provide the opposition in Britain if the tour is switched from its scheduled eight-match tour in South Africa this year.
Gary Gold, the US Eagles coach, confirmed the plans before heading from his home in Cape Town to America for the build-up to the start of the new Major League Rugby season.
That is the league that will provide at least half the USA match squad to face the Springboks.
The rest of the squad will be based around key players operating in Europe – including AJ MacGinty (Sale), Will Hooley and Ruben de Haas (Saracens), Paul Lasike (Harlequins), Greg Peterson (Newcastle), Titi Lamositele (Montpellier), Joe Taufete’e (Lyon) and David Ainu’u (Toulouse).
Gold will also be looking to the USA Eagles sevens squad that has been competing in Madrid to supply players, including Martin Iosefo and Ben Pinkelman who were both a part of the 2019 World Cup squad in Japan.
“I approached the Springboks and they were in a similar position to us without fixtures and they said they could be looking for games,” Gold told RugbyPass.
“Hopefully, we will fulfil a need for the Springboks by getting some of the rustiness off and also get some game time ourselves.
“The plan is to play the Springboks either down there if the tour takes place in South Africa or if not, we could be coming to the UK.
“Pretty much we will play them anywhere and I’m very optimistic the tour will go ahead, but the pendulum is slightly going towards being in the UK because of the vaccination roll out in the UK. It makes sense to go to a country that is more Covid-19 compliant.
“We also have a fixture against England due for July 11 and we have Titi playing in Montpellier, Joe is getting over an injury but training at Lyon and David is playing at Toulouse with Greg in the Newcastle pack while AJ is on fire for Sale Sharks at the moment.”
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While the Springboks have been treading water due to the impact of the pandemic, USA Rugby has been forced to deal with the ramifications of bankruptcy and only came out of Chapter 11 protection last September having given an undertaking to reimburse creditors over the next four years.
The MLR had to finish its 2020 season early due to lockdown and two teams – Toronto and San Diego – will be playing at neutral venues in 2021 to create bubbles to allow them to take part in this season’s campaign.
That is vital to give Gold a chance of putting together a team to face South Africa this year and then compete in the Rugby World Cup qualification matches for France 2023.
Gold is excited to see the impact de Haas can make at Saracens with the 22-year-old an exciting prospect who is the third generation to play for the Cheetahs, formerly Free State.
The decision to exclude the Cheetahs from the Rainbow Cup, which will see the top South African franchises taking part in a competition with the Pro14, prompted the decision by the scrumhalf to move to England.
After the Springboks and England matches, Gold is hoping the USA will be involved in a series of further key matches. He added: “The rest of the year is Rugby World Cup qualifying games in the first two weeks of September and in October is the final round of Americas qualifying against the top South American qualifier. Hopefully, we would then get the Americas 1 spot in the pools.
“With the vaccine roll out I’m quietly confident. We have a whole group of guys preparing for the MLR start and I’m going back to the US for pre-season. We are looking to unearth some really good youngsters and in the sevens, Martin and Ben are going well.
“Ruben has a fantastic rugby pedigree and his dad was good enough to have been a Springbok. Ruben is a special player. His family moved to Arkansas and then he went to university back in South Africa. He would have stayed with Cheetahs but with them being kicked into touch he has joined Saracens.
“They have a history of producing great scrum-halves and he will be playing alongside international players. We have big aspirations in the States but cannot meet them unless AJ, Ruben and the guys are playing at the highest possible level. The MLR will get there but we have to deliver now in terms of the 2023 World Cup.”