Springboks

Be wary of banana peels, Boks!

Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)
Cape Town – South Africa are probably considered red-hot favourites by most observers to win all three home matches in the June Test window ... but they must note that the trio of visiting teams are capable of extraordinary competitiveness at times against top-tier nations.

It will come as a surprise, frankly, if the world No 2-ranked Springboks have the luxury of running up any “cricket scores” like their 105-13 victory over Namibia in Cape Town in 2007, the 134-3 destruction of Uruguay in East London (2005) or the 101-0 result against one of the looming opponents, Italy, in Durban in 1999.

The Italians, now well established in the Six Nations and immeasurably less naive than they were then, are first up for Heyneke Meyer’s team at Kings Park on Saturday (17:15) in the novel two-Tests-a-day, four-team tournament also featuring Scotland and Samoa.

South Africa definitely play Scotland at Mbombela Stadium a week later, although the possibility of encountering the Samoans is dependent on tourney placings ahead of the last round of matches at Loftus on June 22.

Eyebrows will be raised about the competence of the Samoans, despite their famous ruggedness, after their advance party were thrashed 74-14 by the non-Super Rugby Golden Lions at Ellis Park last weekend.

Yet the Pacific Islanders seemed still riddled with travel lethargy for that match and a bit out of early puff at high altitude.

Some reinforcements will have arrived in time for the quadrangular, and it should also be kept in mind that Samoa arrive as the highest ranked of all three touring teams in seventh on the IRB ladder.

That makes them superior in those terms to both the Scots (10th) and Italians (12th), and also to such established powers as Ireland and the newcomers in 2012 to the southern hemisphere’s keynote Castle Rugby Championship, Argentina.

As recently as November last year, they upset Wales 26-19 in their Millennium Stadium stronghold -- and not too long afterwards the Welsh would pull themselves together to win the 2013 Six Nations title.

All rugby-loving Samoans will also still have vivid memories, you can be sure, of a no less famous 32-23 triumph over one of South Africa’s giant SANZAR partners, Australia, in Sydney only eight weeks ahead of the 2011 World Cup.

They have lost all seven prior Test clashes with the Boks, although at the 2011 World Cup were typically gritty and uncompromising before succumbing 13-5.

The Scots, like Samoa, will be group rivals of South Africa at the 2015 World Cup, so lots of mutual mental notes will be made over the next few weeks.

They have only given up three players to the British and Irish Lions squad – lock Richie Gray, fullback Stuart Hogg and wing Sean Maitland – although stalwarts like flank John Barclay and hooker Ross Ford will also be absent through injury.

But they do retain the nucleus of their first-choice pool of players for the SA safari, and come here enriched by the knowledge that they ended an unusually lofty third in the 2013 Six Nations, courtesy of Edinburgh triumphs over Italy (34-10) and Ireland (12-8).

Like the Samoans, they also boast fairly recent success against the Wallabies on their own soil, beating them 9-6 (admittedly in a Newcastle, New South Wales, mudbath) almost exactly a year ago for their first win in that country since 1982.

Scotland have lost 17 times in 22 Test clashes with the Boks.

As for Italy, they were a very respectable fourth in the latest edition of the Six Nations, and only behind the Scots on points difference, following a much-trumpeted opening-game victory over France in Rome (23-18) and later a 22-15 outcome against Ireland.

When they lost to England in their hallowed Twickenham stronghold, it was only by a 18-11 scoreline, and the visitors did dot down the lone try of the day.

Their record against South Africa is no wins from 10 meetings, but they do arrive with proven international superstars like their Argentina-born forwards Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni, who would always have to be considered among candidates in their positions if a World XV was being chosen.

In November last year, the blue-jerseyed outfit were narrowly seen off 22-19 by an understandably tired, late-season Wallaby outfit in Florence.

There is enough in the modern records of all three visiting sides to suggest that, while the Boks ought to win all three June fixtures with some daylight to spare, they would be very foolish to expect cakewalks ...

Records of all three June visitors to SA, at last World Cup (NZ 2011):

Italy (third in Pool C behind Ireland, Australia – eliminated): Lost 32-6 to Australia, beat Russia 53-17, beat United States 27-10, lost 36-6 to Ireland.

Scotland (third in Pool B behind England, Argentina – eliminated): Beat Romania 34-24, beat Georgia 15-6, lost 13-12 to Argentina, lost 16-12 to England.

Samoa (third in Pool D behind South Africa, Wales – eliminated): Beat Namibia 49-12, lost 17-10 to Wales, beat Fiji 27-7, lost 13-5 to South Africa.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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