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State of South African franchises under the spotlight

By Sam Smith

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The British & Irish Lions second tour win, another 50-point battering of a South African club franchise, has put the spotlight on the competitiveness of their opponents.


When the Lions toured to New Zealand in 2017, most of New Zealand’s Super franchises were competitive against the Lions, who were often filled with test-calibre players.

Only the Chiefs ended up on the wrong side of a lopsided score, with the Blues and Highlanders winning while the Hurricanes had a draw. The Crusaders lost in a tryless fixture 12-3, which was played at test intensity.

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Gatland talks about the chances of the test series going ahead
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Gatland talks about the chances of the test series going ahead

After two games in South Africa, the Lions have had a cakewalk so far against the Sigma Lions and the Cell C Sharks, winning by 56-14 and 54-7.

The Springboks have pulled all of their squad members out of their franchises, leaving the domestic teams short of firepower to match it with the British & Irish Lions.Combined with a playing base that is largely offshore, the local teams are ‘as weak as they have ever been’.


South African rugby fans were brutally honest about the state of the domestic game, calling it ’embarassing’ and ‘weak’.

The Bulls, who won the South African conference of the Rainbow Cup, were labelled ‘still pretty weak’. They are expected to put up the most resistance to the best of the home nations.

The final between Benneton and the Bulls last month showed the gap between the European Pro14 sides and the South African franchises. Against the Lions without any Springbok players, they have become ‘cannon fodder’ leaving the fans without a spectacle.


With little question over who will win the remaining warm-up games, the discussion has leaned into who will be better prepared for the test series with the Lions failing to get a real challenge before the Springboks.

The Springboks themselves, who were unconvincing in their first test against Georgia, have had their second test cancelled after a wave of Covid cases across both teams and could head into the series with just one game under their belt.

South African journalist Mark Keohane, who predicted a 3-0 series win to the Springboks, is confident the cakewalk games the Lions are playing will leave them underprepared for the tests.

Writing for the Daily Maverick, South African rugby writer Craig Ray wrote the mood in the Springboks camp is becoming increasingly ‘pessimistic’.

“Word from inside that the camp is that the mood is becoming more pessimistic as the reality that they will be hopelessly undercooked when, and if, they face a British & Lions, crystallises for the Bok squad,” he wrote.

The Springboks are unable to train together while key members are isolating, further delaying the squad from getting into test-match form.


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