Faf de Klerk believes South Africa's Rugby World Cup "connection" will help them overcome a long period without Test rugby ahead of tackling the British and Irish Lions.

The Springboks, with scrum-half De Klerk playing a starring role, were crowned world champions after beating England in November 2019.

But due to a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, South Africa have not played since.

They return to action early next month with two games against Georgia, before the three-Test Lions series kicks off in Cape Town on 24 July.

"Probably the main thing that will remain with me is the group we were at the World Cup," said De Klerk, who lines up for Sale Sharks against Premiership play-off opponents Exeter on Saturday.

"And there is a majority of that group still in the squad for the Lions series. The connection we had throughout that World Cup, and even before that, is going to help us a lot.

"Even if we haven't been together for almost two years, we are going to draw a lot on that, and I think it will probably click very quickly just because of the amount of time we spent together, the stuff we went through.

"Obviously, there are a few new lads in there as well that are going to add energy and value, and I think the bonds we’ve built over that period of time is probably going to be our main go-to.

"It has definitely been frustrating, especially because a lot of people have said we haven’t played (since 2019) and are we really that good? A lot of doubts start to creep in from supporters and stuff like that.

"But we, as players, knew we didn’t have a say in it, and whatever happened, happened. We needed to accept that, make sure you play well for your club and when the opportunity comes, make sure that you are ready.

"You want that jersey over your head and to play for your country. I can’t wait to hopefully get the opportunity again to pull that jersey on and prove again what we did in the World Cup."

While De Klerk is set to be a key performer for South Africa against the Lions, his immediate focus is a first Premiership final appearance and possible title for Sale since 2006.

They head to champions Exeter on Saturday, just a week after losing 20-19 against the Chiefs despite having a one-man advantage for 26 minutes and leading by 16 points when Exeter lock Sam Skinner was sent off.

"We are disappointed with what happened last weekend," said De Klerk. "I think our discipline just slipped a little bit.

"I still believe we played pretty decently in that second half, it was just the penalty count started going against us, which gave them field position. It was a good old scrap.

"We know the type of team we can be if we are on it on the day, and the way we started (last Saturday) wasn’t surprising to me at all.

"If we can play like that for 80 minutes, there are not a lot of teams that can stop us."