August 18 v Argentina (Durban); August 25 v Argentina (Mendoa); Sept 8 v South Africa (Brisbane) Sept 15 v South Africa (Wellington); September 29 v Australia (Port Elizabeth); October 6 v New Zealand (Pretoria).
New coach, new skipper, new hope, and plenty to enthuse about during their summer series with England. They went well in the first two Tests anyway when they demonstrated plenty of scoring potential. Less impressive in the mud in the third and final Test in Cape Town.
Squad news and preparations:
New coach Rassie Erasmus is still getting his feet under the table and the Rugby Championship is a big test – it keeps coming at you with huge match after huge match. One big absentee it seems will be No.8 Duane Vermuelen who made a big impact against England after coming back from France but is now headed for Japan. Willie Le Roux is also only available for the first three games.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Faf de Klerk is a menace for any team at scrum-half and breathed energy back into South Africa at a stroke on his return but South Africa badly need to settle on his partner at half-back between the strong, orthodox Handre Pollard or the more mercurial Elton Jantjies. Against England South Africa demonstrated plenty of firepower in the first two Tests but even an off-key Red Rose outfit exposed big holes in their defence which needs to be worked on.
Players to watch:
De Klerk is the key but he will be a marked man so others must step up to the plate; Willie Le Roux has been playing superbly while the Boks are very reliant on the muscle and grunt of Malcolm Marx, and skipper Siya Kilosi must keep doing his stuff at flanker.
Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Ross Cronjé, Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, André Esterhuizen, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Lionel Mapoe, Lwazi Mvovo, Embrose Papier, Handré Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Damian Willemse
Forwards: Cyle Brink, Jean-Luc du Preez, Thomas du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (captain), Francois Louw, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Akker van der Merwe, Marco van Staden, Warren Whiteley
The Boks garnered just three Tri-Nations titles and are still seeking their first Rugby Championship title since it was inaugurated in 2012. Signs of improvement last season – did the double over Pumas, two draws against Australia and although they got thumped 57-0 in New Zealand lost by just one point at home.
Middling season of good wins and disappointing defeats. Third.
Words by Brendan Gallagher