Boks bask in British sunshine

Heyneke Meyer
Heyneke Meyer

Newcastle – South Africans like the sun on their backs (fronts, too) ... and the travelling Springboks, to their unexpected pleasure, are currently getting plenty of it at the World Cup.

There is usually only a very limited guarantee of clear skies or notably kind temperatures in the United Kingdom in late September and early October, and the further north you go, the less that likelihood generally becomes.

But everything is happening in reverse on this trip, with the Boks experiencing the good old “four seasons in one day” phenomenon at times during their ill-fated (result-wise) initial stay down south in Brighton, yet finding that the weather only gets better the further they shift up through the country.

Has that perhaps coincided with a turn in fortune, something that would also then bode well for Saturday’s top-of-pool clash (17:45 SA time) with Scotland at St James’ Park?

There were good spells of sunshine and overwhelmingly dry weather for the second stop in the Midlands metropolis of Birmingham, where they thrashed Samoa under blue skies and on a fast, firm Villa Park pitch ... but the really balmy experience, if you like, has come in this surprise package north-east city.

Helped by the presence of what meteorologists are calling a “trapped high pressure cell” over much of the UK, Newcastle has been unfailingly gorgeous once any early-morning, autumnal fog lifts off the River Tyne.

There has been barely a cloud in the sky during daytime – a situation fast repeating itself on Friday – and the Pool B humdinger is also expected to be contested in mild, benign conditions with a daytime high of some 17 or 18 deg C.

It feels warmer than that, too, given the absence of any wind chill factor, and groups of Springboks (some with their families in tow) were spotted walking the streets of the city in T-shirts and sunglasses during the traditional Thursday down time for them this week.

Others alighted from minibuses at their Tyneside hotel in the early afternoon after a round of golf, enthusing not only about the quality of the course but the brilliant sunshine which meant some of them were even carrying hints of tans.

The weather has been good for the squad’s collective soul, with the mood so much more improved now after the shock development against Japan almost a fortnight back and then the tournament-ending setback for their luckless initial captain Jean de Villiers.

Even deeply conscientious coach Heyneke Meyer, who attracts stress like a peeled mango welcomes flies when times are tough, has cut an altogether more relaxed figure, being freshly effusive, charming and unrestrained in his media briefings.

Will the expected “Indian summer” conditions here aid the Boks on Saturday afternoon?

You would think so, given that on a normal day, free of any tempestuous involvement from the elements, the Boks would mostly be expected to have the measure of this particular, often labouring Six Nations outfit and the historical records (20 wins to five in SA favour) bear that out.

The Scots are far more accustomed to “challenging” weather, which was certainly present the last time they beat the Boks – by 21-17 at Murrayfield in late November 2010.

This writer attended that match, on the more traditional near-annual SA end-of-year tour of these climes, and the driving rain, mud and frigid winter temperatures played right into Scottish hands.

Conditions were so grim that even the hardiest of veteran Scottish rugby journalists abandoned their positions in the unenclosed (but at least sheltered) press-box to watch the game over cups of tea – or perhaps something a wee bit stronger? – on a small television in a cramped room inside the stand.

That said, the current Scotland side revels rather more these days in an upbeat, ball-in-hand style of rugby, so it is not as though they will necessarily lament a dry pitch and mild temperature at the hallowed, imposing home of once-mighty Newcastle United just across their border.

The Boks? They’ll most certainly bank the good conditions, especially after dotting six tries without reply against the Samoans only a week ago.

Fielding a particularly powerful side on paper this weekend, there won’t be too many excuses easily to hand if they botch this crunch occasion ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.

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