Bryan Habana believes South Africa’s win over New Zealand was just the boost the world champions needed heading into their tour of Britain.
The Springboks begin their end-of-year campaign against Wales in Cardiff next week before facing Scotland and then finishing their November campaign against England for the first time since overwhelming the Red Rose brigade in the 2019 World Cup final in Japan.
South Africa finished third in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship concluded earlier this month but, after a trio of successive defeats, ended the tournament with a dramatic 31-29 win over arch-rivals New Zealand.
And having seen off the British and Irish Lions 2-1 in a three-match series already this year, the Springboks now have another chance to make an impression on Home Nations rugby ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France.
“There were a lot of questions asked during that Lions series, but I think the way the Springboks came out of the rugby wilderness, the mental resilience that team showed was paramount,” said South Africa great Habana via video-link at the Autumn Nations Series launch on Tuesday.
“They got found wanting against Australia in the countries’ second Test of the Rugby Championship, but they proved in the last game against the All Blacks that they are worthy world champions.
“We saw the Test quality of the Springboks team in that last game…There will definitely be a three (wins) from three goal in place next month and they will be focusing on the first game against Wales, where they haven’t had much success over the last half a decade.”
Wales have won their last four matches against South Africa in Cardiff and the 38-year-old Habana, who scored 67 tries in 124 Tests for the Springboks, added: “Go back over the last four or five years and the titanic battles against Wales, it has been physically won up-front and I can’t see this game being much different.”
– ‘Blood new talent’ –
Meanwhile, Habana reckoned England coach Eddie Jones had made a well-timed decision in selecting Harlequins rising stars Alex Dombrandt and Marcus Smith in his November squad.
“In the mid-World Cup cycle, Eddie knows he potentially needs an opportunity to blood young new talent within the set-up,” said Habana, himself a 2007 World Cup-winner.
“Marcus Smith has had a dream 12 months, to be honest and is justly rewarded, and then you look at players like Alex Dombrandt, who was also instrumental in Quins winning the Premiership last season.
“It is a series when you can potentially give opportunities — mix that experience with youth — and hopefully get a better insight to what he needs to really look forward to in terms of the next World Cup in 2023.”
Even though the Springboks have a contract to appear in the Rugby Championship until 2030 they have long been linked with a move to the Six Nations given the commercial benefits and equivalent time zones between the Republic and Europe.
That speculation has intensified with the arrival of four South African teams — Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions — into the United Rugby Championship, the former Celtic League.
But Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel insisted Tuesday there were no plans on the table to make the Springboks the ‘seventh’ nation.
“It’s not currently a question. My understanding is that South Africa are committed to the Rugby Championship and at the same time our focus is on July and November,” said Morel, whose organisation is also responsible for the Autumn Nations Series.
“The Six Nations has added to and reduced its number of teams in very few moments during its 140 years, so it’s something that we’d be very cautious of doing.”