South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber says it could be a race against time to get the Springboks ready for the British and Irish Lions in 2021.

Unlike most of the rugby playing world who have returned to the field of play, South Africa remain an outlier, with many Springboks yet to play competitive rugby in over six months. There is a scheduled trial match and a number of warm-up games prior to the Rugby Championship and the Super Rugby franchises got their first run out this weekend in a ‘Super Fan’ event, yet this could be the rustiest Bok team to ever take the field.

Added to this is the pressure of being the number 1 ranked side and Rugby World Cup champions. Now, in a wide-ranging with Jon Cardinelli of TheXV, the new Springboks coach admits to fears over preparing his players.

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“These are uncertain times,” Nienaber told TheXV. “As the weeks and months have gone by, and as the number of coronavirus cases have increased, I’ve started to wonder whether my first Test in charge may well be against the Lions – 18 months after my appointment as head coach.

“Don’t get me wrong, the safety of the players is paramount and we have to accept that the situation is what it is in South Africa. We will have to think outside the box if we’re going to make up the lost ground. We are going to be very raw in the Rugby Championship. Indeed, I think it’s going to be a race against time to be ready for the Lions next year.”

“Listen. We’re going to have to make a plan if we want to be competitive. The Kiwis returned via Super Rugby Aotearoa in June which means that they have a three-month head start on us in terms of preparation.

“I guess you’ve got to adopt a positive mindset and try to make a plan to close that gap. We managed to turn things around in the two seasons building up to the World Cup. That’s encouraging.

“The whole situation does make me laugh, though,” he adds. “It’s as if we keep getting new challenges thrown our way. It’s as if someone is saying, ‘You turned things around in two seasons to win the Rugby Championship and the World Cup? Well, here’s another set of hurdles for you to overcome before you play the Lions!.’

“Again, it’s a challenge we have to embrace. Regardless of the circumstances, there are no excuses. Everyone will be going all out to make that Lions series count.”

Nienaber understands the size of the task facing the Springboks, with a Lions side looking to avenge the series loss of 2009.

“That marks the last time the Lions lost a series,” he says. “They beat Australia in 2013 and then drew with New Zealand in 2017. They’re coming to South Africa next year to complete the southern-hemisphere sweep.”

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