Vincent Koch has issued a warning to his fellow World Cup-winning Springboks hoping key British and Irish Lions players operating with Saracens in the second division of English rugby will be vulnerable on the eight match tour of South Africa this summer.
With Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, naming his 36 strong tour party next Thursday, Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Elliot Daly, Mako and Billy Vunipola and Sean Maitland are aiming to prove you can be picked for the three test series from the Championship and Koch admitted: “These guys are ready to fire.”
Tighthead Koch, a member of the 2019 Cup-winning Springbok team, has a very personal reason to hope Saracens get a strong contingent on the tour as it would strengthen his own case for Bok selection despite not playing in the Gallagher Premiership.
As he prepares to take on Nottingham and keep Saracens on track for an immediate return to the top flight, Koch said: “These guys are firing and excited about the Lions tour and they will definitely be ready and up for it. They are ready to fire. I hope there is a lot of Saracens in there so Rassie (Erasmus, Springbok director of rugby) can see that we are going to be facing the Sarries set up and it increases my chance of selection.
“It is a massive achievement if the boys do get into the Lions squad and they will only be taking the best so that will be some sleepless nights before the squad is named. The Saracens setup means that although we are not playing in the Premiership what we do is still at the highest level. We drive high standards as well and the boys are getting game time.”
Koch, like other European-based Boks, is waiting to discover who will be asked to return to South Africa to join the squad preparing for the Lions and the World Cup winners have not played a test match since beating England in the final in Yokohama in 2019. He added: “There are some training camps and warm-up games scheduled for the next few months leading up to the Lions tour.
“At the moment we are all focussed on performing at our clubs over here and hope it is good enough for Springbok selection. We are not too worried about travel plans – it’s about getting into the squad. Other clubs have been copying Saracens with Saffas and winning trophies and there are only two of us here at the moment. Hopefully, there will be room on the Sale plane! I will be happy to sit in economy.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 29, 2021
Springbok assistant coach Felix Jones, based in Dublin, sends potential squad members videos of their performances in the top European leagues and Koch recognises that he is a different position with Championship matches behind a streaming service. “I have told him I will send him the live stream link so he can see my games,” joked Koch. “We have had chats and the coaches are letting the guys know what is expected of them of you want to be part of the Bok set up for the Lions.
“The coaches have a massive challenge as well to get every aligned if you get the call-up and the feedback has been really good. Maybe Rassie will be sending me a bill for £10 a game to watch.”
Koch is on a steep learning curve in the Championship and was given a rough ride in the opening match of the season with Cornish Pirates shocking the former European and English champions with their forward power. Koch and his teammates have been forced to learn very quickly about the dangers lurking in the second division.
As far as in-form wingers go, recently qualified Scottish international Duhan van der Merwe has to be at the top of the list after an astounding introduction to test rugby over the last year. @bensmithrugby https://t.co/vleYwvqC6O
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 28, 2021
He said “For me it’s working out what they are going to bring in each match and the things I am learning are really useful. As a prop this is one of the most important seasons because of what I am dealing with and handling all of these challenges will help me in the long run.
“Our focus at Saracens is on ourselves and we need to be on it every game and ready for whatever the opposition bring. We will be up for the Nottingham game and we will be going full steam. The teams in the Championship all have big packs and the set-piece does bring a different challenge as a front-rower. It has been quite difficult and they are massive boys who are good scrummagers and pride themselves on dominance in the front row.”
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