Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has reacted to the naming of the British and Irish Lions squad for the three-Test series against his team by saying “a marker has been laid in the ground in terms of international rugby returning to South Africa.”
Nienaber called the news that the Lions will be on these shores in less than two months’ time “phenomenal for us, because we’ve been out of it for a while.”
Lions coach Warren Gatland named his 37-man squad on Thursday with Wales great Alun Wyn Jones as team leader.
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The Lions will play eight matches, including three Tests against the World Cup winners, in South Africa from the beginning of July to early August.
Nienaber is expected to name his Bok squad for the series early next month.
“The announcement of the Lions squad was a marker in the ground in terms of international rugby coming back to South Africa, which is phenomenal for us, because we’ve been out of it for a while,” Nienaber told the Springbok rugby website on Friday.
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The Bok coach said Gatland’s long stint as successful Wales coach would make him a tough opponent.
“One thing I know about Warren is that he will do his homework,” said Nienaber, who took over from Rassie Erasmus as Bok coach after the World Cup, but he has yet to prepare a team for a match because of the coronavirus’ impact on world sport.
“If you look into the past the Welsh have always been a team we have struggled against. We had one win against them since the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final, which was the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final in 2019.”
Under Gatland the Lions won the series against Australia in 2013 and drew with New Zealand in 2017.
With regards the form of the South African players in action in the Rainbow Cup, Nienaber said he’d definitely seen a step up in intensity.
“The pleasing thing for me was to see how the players are working on and improving on the things we spoke about during the alignment camps.
“We have less than 80 days before we play the Lions and the players and coaches have to utilise every second of that time to make sure we are well prepared for the series.
“The Lions is a special occasion that might come only once during a career, and I know there are certain players who have postponed their retirement because of this tour, so I think all the stars are aligned for a great series.”