Jacques Nienaber defends wholesale Springboks changes for second Welsh test
South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber denies it’s a gamble but his decision to make wholesale changes to their winning team for the second Test against Wales has provoked strong reaction.
Nienaber’s decision to change 19 of his 23 players and rest 14 Rugby World Cup winners with the series still to play for on Saturday has provoked strong reaction.
Wales great Gareth Edwards told Welsh media the decision was disrespectful and could backfire on the world champions, especially after the Springboks’ front-liners scraped home 32-29 in the first Test with a last-second penalty.
South African media have expressed concern over a “radical” team selection by Nienaber – he made 14 switches to his starting 15 – that might prove unforgivable if Wales catch out a Springboks team of fringe players and youngsters to snatch a first Test win over the Boks on South African soil in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
That would end a 58-year run of success at home over Wales for South Africa and leave the series 1-1 with a decider to play.
“If there had been five or six changes, you would maybe have raised an eyebrow. But 14 changes, it’s overwhelming,” said Edwards, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf.
“I don’t think it shows respect for Wales. … It is a great opportunity (for Wales) to beat them and say, ‘Thank you very much for picking that team.'”
Nienaber defended his wholesale changes by asserting the Springboks “picked a side we believe can beat Wales.”
But that side is without captain Siya Kolisi, without the entire first-choice front row that’s considered the best in the world, without key lineout jumper Lood de Jager, and with a completely new backline from the opening test.
In their defence, South Africa have recalled World Cup-winning flyhalf Handre Pollard, who will also captain, and former world player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit at flanker. Eben Etzebeth, the only player in the starting 15 to be retained, will play his 99th test.
And responding to claims it was effectively a Springboks B team, Nienaber said: “I don’t think I’d take offence to that, but Handre and Eben will.”
There is a World Cup just over a year away and Nienaber does need to move the Springboks on from the team of 2019, though the series is still in the balance.
And it also may have thrown up a dilemma for Wales.
Third-choice scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse will also start. There are four other uncapped players on the Boks’ bench and 13 of the 23 have played less than 10 tests.
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