SOUTH Africa rugby coach Heyneke Meyer’s first assignment is hurtling towards him with the speed of an express train and the new Bok mentor can set the tone for his international career with how he handles the pressure in this opening skirmish.
In a return to the traditional style of touring, the Springboks will take on England in a three-test series next month, with the tourists also playing two mid-week matches.
It does not quite match the pre-professional tour format in which teams spent at least two months touring in a venture that would grip the nation’s sporting imagination.
Nonetheless, the three-match series will have more meaning than those one-off tests for which countries used to fly in the week before and disappear the second the match was completed. And the bonus for Eastern Cape fans is that the third and final test will be played at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, which should further entrench the venue as one of genuine international status.
Meyer has been flying largely under the radar in the build-up to the test series, but there have been rumbles about his approach being too closely aligned to his strategy used as a successful Bulls coach. And his apparent wooing of a retired Springbok in Victor Matfield and the suggestion that veteran scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, now playing in Japan, will get a recall indicate that Meyer is keen to surround himself with all things familiar.
With his rugby credentials, you would hope Meyer knows what he is doing and, while there is a need to retain a thread of experience in the Springbok side, the new coach will also have to show some imagination and bravery in his selection.
A new frontier has arrived for the Springboks and hopefully Meyer will find the courage to start building for the future and not constantly call back the past.
His coaching success suggests he is well equipped to take on one of sport’s toughest jobs, but his biggest test is not so much what he achieves on the field, but how he handles the pressure off it.
Sports fans are fickle the world over and Springbok rugby supporters are no exception.
The passion runs deep and while that is not a bad thing, Meyer will quickly learn the value of a thick skin and a sense of calm if he is to survive in the hot seat.