Springbok head coach Peter de Villiers admits it is hard to believe that the three-match Test series against the Lions is now just over a month away.
De Villiers was appointed to his current role in January 2008, with SA Rugby always looking ahead to the first Lions series in the Republic for 12 years.
Much has been made of the chance for the Boks to gain revenge for their 2-1 series defeat in 1997 and now that chance is very nearly upon them.
"It is amazing how quickly time has flown,” said de Villiers, who is putting the final touches to his Springbok squad ahead of the first Test in Durban on June 20.
"In just two weeks from today, on Monday, May 25, a South African XV will assemble in Johannesburg, signifying the start of our preparations for the eagerly-awaited visit by the British & Irish Lions.”
With the 2009 Super 14 season now nearing its climax, the imminence of the de Villiers’ team selection will give added impetus to the all South African clash between the Sharks and the Bulls this weekend.
Both sides contain a large of number of potential Springboks and de Villiers and his fellow coaches will be keeping a keen eye on proceeding at the ABSA Stadium.
"It’s as if it was only yesterday that the Super 14 kicked off with South Africans’ hopes high about how their teams may fare. Now, we are just a week from knowing who the semi-finalists will be, with the Bulls very well positioned and the Sharks not having the luxury of being in control of their destiny.
"The two will face off in Durban this weekend in what I expect will be a very physical encounter. They always are when our SA sides go up against each other.
"Some may go as far as calling this a virtual Springbok trial with the two franchises having so many players in contention for places in the Springbok squad.
"I will watch the contest closely and hold thumbs that we suffer no more injuries at such a critical stage of the season."
The injuries de Villiers talks of have worried many Springbok fans but the head coach says he expects to have most of his frontline players back in time to face the Lions.
The likes of Jean de Villiers, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez and Francois Steyn have all been major injury concerns but de Villiers insists he will still have the luxury of picking an incredibly-strong squad to take on Ian McGeechan’s tourists.
"In recent weeks there have been injuries to some key players but we are confident that they will have recovered in time for the Castle South Africa 2009 Lions Series.
”The only player who is definitely out is Conrad Jantjes, who has a broken leg. I visited him in hospital last week and he was bitterly disappointed, but in fair spirits. That’s the game of rugby I suppose.
"The Lions’ Tomas O’Leary and Tom Shanklin are probably feeling similar emotions after being forced out of the tour by injury. O’Leary’s injury has paved the way for Mike Blair to join the squad, which is no surprise at all.
"The SA XV that will get together on May 25 will play against a Namibian Invitational XV in Windhoek on Friday, May 29. Thereafter, with the Super 14 complete, we will announce the Springbok squad from which the 22 for the first test against the Lions is likely to come.
"As usual there has been – and will continue to be – much speculation over who will be in and who will be out. The beauty of sport is that everyone has their opinion but our aim is to pick the strongest possible squad that we believe has what it takes to beat the Lions in the three-test series.”