The Springboks will make their much-anticipated return to international action in July when the world champions host Georgia in a historic two-match series, which is part of a bumper World Rugby midyear Test schedule.
The series mark the first time Georgia will tour South Africa, while the two Tests are also the first time the two countries will meet again since their only previous clash, at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia.
It means Jacques Nienaber will make his debut as Springbok head coach on the weekend of 2/3 July, with the second clash set for one week later on the weekend of 9/10 July. SA Rugby will confirm the exact dates, venues and kick-off times in due course.
Rassie Erasmus, Director of Rugby, welcomed the World Rugby July Test schedule and said the two-Test series against Georgia offered the Springboks a very good opportunity to prepare for the much-anticipated Castle Lager Lions Series.
“Nothing beats a full-blooded international to test your skill set, readiness and ability under pressure, and we are delighted to have this opportunity before the Lions series,” said Erasmus.
“Jacques (Nienaber), his coaching staff and management have been working around the clock to get the team as well prepared as possible, and the Georgia series is a much-needed opportunity after such a long and unforeseen interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Last year, Nienaber was named as Springbok head coach, but the worldwide pandemic has prevented the Rugby World Cup champions from playing any Test matches since 2 November 2019, when they defeated England in the final in Japan.
“The confirmation of the Georgian Tests, and the announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad last week have caused a lot of excitement and I am sure it will lift the spirit of the players – we can now accelerate our preparations for our return to Test rugby,” said Nienaber.
Lasha Khurtsidze, the Georgian vice-president for High Performance and Development, described the forthcoming series as a result of the growing friendship and cooperation between the rugby authorities in Georgia and South Africa.
“Playing against them is a great honour for us,” said Khurtsidze.
“We have only played the Springboks once before, in our first Rugby World Cup appearance in 2003, when we scored the first try. A lot of time has passed since then, they are the current world champions and we have developed as well.”
According to Khurtsidze, SA Rugby has over a number of years made an active contribution to the development of Georgian rugby.
“We appreciate the fact that we have a friendly and close relations with SA Rugby. Our Under-20s have been invited to South Africa on numerous occasions to play in very high-level tournaments over there. As a leading tier-one rugby nation, this makes South Africa an important contributor to the development of Georgian rugby.”
Following the historic series in SA, Georgia is scheduled to host Scotland and Lelos head coach Levan Maisashvili said he considers the three successive Tests against Tier One nations as the best development opportunity for his team.
“The fact that the world champions intend to play two Test matches against us is a tribute to Georgian rugby and a serious challenge,” said Maisashvili.
“We will host Scotland after the series in SA, and so I think this is another amazing opportunity to help us in our development.”
A revised programme of men’s Test matches – headlined by the Castle Lager Lions Series – is set to take place in July after all unions and World Rugby agreed a revised schedule within the existing window. The revisions have been made recognising an ongoing and complex global COVID-19 picture while aiming to limit further impact.
Twenty-three of the top 27 ranked unions will be in action. The underpinning principle for the schedule was the fixture calendar agreed in San Francisco in 2017. Where it was not possible or practical to honour that schedule, new arrangements were put in place.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “This has taken a monumental effort from all concerned. While there is light at the end of the tunnel in respect to COVID-19 in many nations, the challenges continue to be present, dynamic and impactful and therefore I would like to thank the unions, their respective governments, broadcast and commercial partners and players for their flexibility and full commitment to the process.
“Fans around the world can now look forward to an exciting bumper schedule of men’s test matches involving at least 24 teams, which will be a welcome sight for everyone. The road to Rugby World Cup 2023 also continues and, of course, we are anticipating a fascinating British and Irish Lions series.”
World Rugby and unions will continue to monitor the dynamic COVID-19 situation closely and respond if necessary, while any revisions to the November International programme will be confirmed in due course. World Rugby will also maintain its high performance support for emerging nations ahead of the July tests.
Globally integrated international calendar
Meanwhile, World Rugby continues to lead and facilitate focused and productive discussions with all stakeholders regarding the establishment of a globally integrated international calendar following Rugby World Cup 2023.
International Rugby Players and the respective national leagues are central contributors within the dedicated working groups. Through these discussions, we are united in our mission to optimise the calendar for players, the international and club game.
Additionally, following the announcement of increased high performance support funding for RWC 2021 qualified and qualifier Tests, World Rugby continues to be in discussion with unions regarding confirmation of a women’s Test programme that will boost preparation for next year’s tournament.