The doping authorities are keeping an unusually close eye on the touring South Africans as they enter the final stages of a long and painful international season: after their defeat at Murrayfield on Saturday, the shop-soiled world champions saw half a dozen of their number tested for illicit substances, as opposed to a mere couple of Scots – the inevitable consequence of the drug scandal that saw two Springboks, the wing Bjorn Basson and the hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, head home early after giving positive samples for the stimulant methylhexaneamine.
"We've never experienced testing on this scale before, but we're not in a position to object," said the Boks' chief medic, Dr Craig Roberts, as the squad arrived in London for this weekend's last hurrah against England at Twickenham. "Actually, we don't want to object: we want to see our guys tested, because we want to know what we're dealing with here. The situation surrounding methylhexaneamine is a minefield, because it has crept into an increasing number of commonly used medical products. We're still testing everything our players have taken on this trip, but it takes time. However, I do not believe anyone has knowingly done anything wrong."
If Dr Roberts is keen to get to the bottom of this unfortunate incident, the remaining players have more pressing business on their agenda: namely, the immediate challenge of salvaging something worthwhile from a failed Grand Slam campaign and shielding Peter de Villiers from the growing number of critics who want him ousted as head coach well before next year's World Cup.
There are echoes of 2006 here. On that occasion, Jake White brought the Springboks to London for two Tests against an equally frazzled England team coached by Andy Robinson, the second of which was macabre in the extreme. The winning coach would stay in place, while the loser would find himself in P45 territory. South Africa were the ones who made it through, and White went on to guide them to a World Cup triumph 11 months later. Robinson? He was duly sacked – a humiliation only partly assuaged by his triumph with Scotland last weekend.
All things considered, the Boks are likely to be as highly motivated for this game as they were four years ago. "We know what we must do on Saturday," said Bakkies Botha, the acknowledged enforcer in the South African pack. "We must stand up to England, and we will. It is always a physical game at Twickenham, but physicality brings me out in goose bumps and I'm looking forward to it. We've closed the door on Scotland now. This week's match, our last Test of the year, is all that matters."
England may find themselves facing an unfamiliar opponent in the Springbok front row, not that the tourists' full metal jacket approach to scrummaging will be anything other than wholly predictable. According to Os du Randt, the double World Cup-winning prop who now acts as "scrum consultant" – a title that makes him sound rather distinguished – there is a possibility that 21-year-old rookie Coenie Oosthuizen will play at loose head. The current first choice, Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira, did not train yesterday after tweaking a knee ligament at Murrayfield and is far from certain to recover in time for the Twickenham date.
"Whatever happens, we will go into this game with the same desire as always," said Du Randt. "In a way, we're in the same boat as Scotland were last week. They reacted to a bad defeat by New Zealand by surprising us. This week, we're hurting in the same way."Reuse content