It would not be South Africa and it could not possibly be Springbok rugby without the new international season starting amid a hail of accusations, widespread moaning and counter-claims. That's the way rugby life is on the veld, and Scotland's players, hardly unac-customed to criticism themselves, will be fully aware of it prior to Saturday's First Test against the Boks in Durban.
In most people's eyes, Jake White has been Merlin the Magician as Springbok coach. In his first year he led the Boks to the Tri-Nations title, and last year he only narrowly missed retaining the crown. South Africa were the only team to beat the All Blacks in 2005.
Yet the coach is under the hammer. Critics in parliament questioned his team selection for yesterday's match against the World XV in Johannesburg, slammed him for his alleged dictatorial manner and beat him with that uniquely South African stick - a lack of transparency. Too few opportunities were being offered to talented young black players, they complained.
White focuses on what he can influence. He recognisesthe need to lift players mentally after the country's sides performed disastrously in the Super 14 season. "Of course it dumps more pressure on me," he said. "It is very difficult for a player who has been getting hammered every week suddenly to expect to win in an international environment. Sport is becoming a subconscious thing and, deep down, the players may doubt they can do it."
The Springbok coach warns that South Africa must learn lessons from England's demise this season. He says that the current system whereby the Super 14 sides largely do their own thing mirrors England's structure, where the Rugby Football Union and the clubs are at loggerheads.
"I have no say in selection, Super 14 sides are run by the franchises. But we surely must learn from what is happening to England. You cannot have two bosses in rugby. Why are New Zealand so successful ? Because the players have one central contract, and that makes sense."
Beating England has become a pursuit akin to the Holy Grail for all South African rugby men. "We haven't beaten England at Twickenham since 1997, but we're going to play them twice in November, as well as Ireland. It will be ideal preparation to chart our progress with the World Cup by then only 10 months away. But we will be fresh and ready for it this time."
The reason for his optimism is that his plea to allow the top Springboks to sit out the domestic Currie Cup competition has finally been heard. No one is more aware of the risks of burn-out than White, and he admits he has probably overplayed the players likely to form his first-choice XV at the World Cup.
"Our best players have played too much over the last 18 months. Take a guy like Bryan Habana. I worry about him because already he is getting injured and is in danger of being knackered. The players' lifespan is so short."
The 2006 international season will see a series of radical Springbok teams. Fresh faces will emerge, such as the Leeds wing Andre Snyman and the brilliant Sharks youngster Ruan Pienaar.
The coach's ambition is to produce, by the end of 2006, two Springbok sides who could both operate successfully at next year's World Cup. "We have had two years together as a young team but this will be the year I will rest them so they will be ready for next year." White's men will play 12 full internationals in the course of little more than six months. No wonder he says of 2006: "This will be our toughest year ever. You can't doubt it, looking at the schedule."Reuse content