Springboks to play Wales in Washington
A new Springbok era under coach Rassie Erasmus will not start against England at Ellis Park on June 9 as expected‚ but a week earlier against Wales in Washington DC.
The match – the first time the Boks will face Tier One opposition on neutral ground outside the Rugby World Cup – was confirmed by event hosts‚ Rugby International Marketing (RIM)‚ the commercial arm of USA Rugby‚ on Monday.
Kick-off is scheduled for 5pm (11pm SA time) in the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium (RFK) in Washington DC.
The Wales match takes place a week before a three-Test home series against England starts.
Travelling to the United States for a one-off Test so soon before they meet Eddie Jones’ England is an indication that income and brand building appear to be superseding player welfare and shot-term success.
Erasmus‚ who is set to be unveiled as Springbok coach on Wednesday‚ will be grateful for the chance to have his team play together before meeting England‚ who have won 24 of 26 Tests under Jones.
But traversing the globe while England will already be in SA preparing for the first Test at Ellis Park could have negative effects on the Boks’ preparations and take away some advantage the Boks might have had going into the first Test against England.
At this stage it’s also unclear how Erasmus will juggle his players for the Washington clash‚ which falls outside World Rugby’s designated Test window.
That means players contracted to overseas clubs will not be eligible for the game.
But SA’s Super Rugby franchises are not involved in the tournament that weekend‚ although there are fixtures in the New Zealand and Australian Conferences. The Bok squad to play Wales will therefore exclusively be drawn from locally-based players.
The June 2 meeting will be the 34rd Test between South Africa and Wales‚ with the Springboks having won 28 Tests‚ lost four while one encounter ended in a draw‚ for a winning rate of 85%. Wales won the last two Tests between these teams‚ both in Cardiff.
The match – the first between two top tier teams in the U.S. capital – was announced on Monday at a special ceremony at the South African Embassy in Washington DC.
Jurie Roux‚ CEO of SA Rugby‚ said the Springboks were delighted to play against Wales on US soil.
It will be the Boks’ first visit to that country since December 2001‚ when they beat the USA Eagles‚ 43-20‚ in Houston.
“The match in Washington allows us to take Springbok rugby to America and to potentially expand the team’s appeal to very large audience‚” said Roux.
“Our research shows that the Springboks have a growing worldwide fan base and we see the match in Washington as ideal platform to tap into a market that offers huge possibilities for South African rugby‚ in the exciting American sporting area.
“We are also grateful to the Wales Rugby Union for their efforts in making this match a reality and it will get a very challenging international season off to a great start.”