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THIS Bok Trio Should Be Back First Into Rugby Action – By Rob Houwing

You might want to call it the coronavirus lottery.

But if current projections prove a solid enough yardstick, then the lucky trio of Lood de Jager, Faf de Klerk and Vincent Koch should be the first of South Africa’s World Cup 2019-winning heroes back out of the blocks in competitive play in around five weeks’ time, following months of dormancy.

All three represent English Premiership clubs: De Jager and De Klerk turn out for Sale Sharks and Koch for Saracens.

That league is earmarked to be the first major one in the northern hemisphere to spring back to life, after the lengthy pandemic-related shutdown, over the weekend of August 15.

Clubs in England began approved close-contact training earlier this week – a key step toward a return to “proper” rugby, although clarity is still awaited over whether a spectator element would be allowed at grounds in the event that the Premiership can resume as now planned.

As things stand, it may be safer to contend that English rugby resuming in mid-August is a better bet than South Africa returning to action with an intended, expanded Currie Cup about two weeks beyond that, at the start of the domestic spring.

This country is only beginning to see peaks – and even then, only in some regions – in the virus’s curve, whereas the crisis is now dissipating quite markedly in England after the depressing high levels of several weeks ago.

So it may well mean a handy headstart for De Jager, De Klerk and Koch after inactivity since at least mid-March for the key Bok stars of the Webb Ellis Cup triumph in Japan late last year.

The first-named two, last turned out at exactly the same time: they entered play in the second half simultaneously off the bench in a 39-0 home whipping of London Irish on 6 March.

It was also lanky lock De Jager’s Sale debut and return to play after his shoulder injury – requiring surgery – midway through the first half of the memorable 32-12 RWC final triumph over England at Yokohama, while De Klerk was coming back off a shorter-term knee problem.

Koch, meanwhile, was the starting tighthead prop a day later when Sarries (as competitive as ever this season, although they have officially been relegated for next season after massive points deductions over salary procedure irregularities) beat Leicester 24-13 at Allianz Park – the powerhouse put in an hour’s shift.

South African-based Boks had a slightly later finish to their rugby in March, as Super Rugby was only suspended a week later after the round ending on the 15th.

When the Premiership does resume in the “north”, there will be a race against time to complete the 22-match round-robin roster; all teams had played only 13 at the cut and several rounds of midweek fixtures are likely to be arranged, like the Premiership football situation in that country.

But at least it would represent a treasured chance, after some five months of global rugby inactivity by then, by new national coach Jacques Nienaber to begin the process of monitoring anew the form and conditioning of some of his prized assets.

That drive could pick up further steam a week beyond the Premiership’s planned restart when the PRO14 (weekend around August 22) also reignites.

Two current Springboks will be active there for Irish giants Munster, as midfielder Damian de Allende and lock RG Snyman recently signed deals with the club.

Not long beyond that, the French Top 14 is also anticipated to resume, and that will involve Boks like Handre Pollard and latest recruit from Northampton Cobus Reinach (both Montpellier) and Cheslin Kolbe of Toulouse.

It will take rather longer for our expanding contingent of Japan-based Test stars to banish their cobwebs: the Top League there will only get underway in January and that represents a bit of a headache to the national cause.

But at least, some time in August, Nienaber and his lieutenants will be grateful for getting fresh glimpses – rather than none at all – of key personnel for any Bok Test activity that may spring up before this troubled calendar year has run its course.

Source: https://www.news24.com/sport/rugby/springboks/this-bok-trio-should-be-back-first-into-rugby-action-20200710

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