Cape Town - England finally confirmed their Autumn Nations Series fixtures – described by coach Eddie Jones as “almost a mini-World Cup” – for November 2022 this week, and the Springboks are on their horizon once more.
Jones’s team will take on Argentina, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, while the Boks are likely to face Ireland, France, Italy and England on their end-of-year tour next November, and that group of games should be the main dress rehearsal for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
SA Rugby have yet to confirm their fixture schedule for 2022, but according to a list of proposed fixtures at the end of the Rassie Erasmus World Rugby misconduct outcome, the world champions are set to host Wales in South Africa in July, with the Rugby Championship set for August and September.
For the November tour to Europe, Ireland have been pencilled in for November 5, followed by France a week later and then Italy, with Wales initially listed for November 26, but that has now officially been changed to England at Twickenham.
For Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, it represents a much tougher fixture list than the 2021 November tour, where they beat Wales and Scotland, before going down 27-26 to England.
In terms of form and selection, the Boks have a lot of work to do to be ready for the World Cup, and perhaps a repeat of their strategy in 2018 and 2019 in that regard – before they arrived in Japan – would serve them well in 2023 too.
When Erasmus took charge in 2018, he spread the net wide in terms of selection, and even appointed a new captain in Siya Kolisi.
He also targeted certain games that he wanted to win, especially the one against the All Blacks in Wellington, to ensure that the players had the necessary confidence against New Zealand before the World Cup.
Despite losses to Australia and Argentina, the gamble paid off as the Boks beat the All Blacks 36-34 at Westpac Stadium, and nearly did it again a year later in the Rugby Championship with a 16-16 draw at the same venue.
The Boks lost to the Kiwis in the World Cup opener, but showed tremendous character to go unbeaten for the rest of the tournament in Japan.
Following the 2021 season, Nienaber should perhaps follow a similar plan in 2022.
He decided to stick to the triedand-tested this year, even when some of those players were off form, such as Willie le Roux, Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard.
How about mixing it up against Wales in July?
We need to find out if Aphelele Fassi can handle the heat at fullback, after he impressed at wing in the two Tests he played in 2021.
Also, Warrick Gelant is another option at No 15, and he has been in top form for the Stormers after a lengthy injury lay-off.
Is there life after Duane Vermeulen? The likes of Stormers No 8 Evan Roos, Northampton bruiser Juarno Augustus and perhaps Sharks youngster Phepsi Buthelezi must be tested at Bok level.
A third flyhalf behind Pollard and Elton Jantjies must be identified, and here Junior Bok and Lions pivot Jordan Hendrikse is pushing for a chance alongside Sharks No 10 Boeta Chamberlain, although Bulls star Johan Goosen could also be fit again next September.
That kind of experimentation could and should continue in the Rugby Championship as well, so that by the time the November tour comes around, Nienaber has the best possible squad to take on the northern hemisphere teams.