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Nadine Roos' verdict on the latest South Africa last-place finish

By Liam Heagney
South Africa's Nadine Roos goes on the attack in Hong Kong (Photo by Mike Lee/World Rugby)

The last time RugbyPass caught up with Nadine Roos, she was out the back of the tournament-hosting complex in Stellenbosch showing off the 2023 Challenger Series trophy to South Africa fans delighted that their women’s team had just clinched promotion to the HSBC SVNS Series.

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She made a promise about the tough road that lay ahead. “We are not only going to participate, we are going there to compete and make a statement on the world series as well,” she reckoned.

“Within our squad, we have enough talent and the abilities to win games on the world series and really grow each tournament that we get the opportunity in.”

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It was late April last year when the tier two champion predicted this bright top table forecast, but what has transpired has been bruising. Last weekend’s latest pool blank was their fourth in six tournaments, leaving their group stage record reading P18 W3 L15.

Throw in the rankings games that have followed at these tournaments in Dubai, Cape Town, Perth, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong and it has been a campaign featuring 10th, 12th, 10th, 12th, sixth and 12th place finishes respectively.

That’s frustrating. When they pitched up in Dubai in early December, there was immediate evidence that Roos’ sunny Challenger Series optimism could be vindicated as South Africa got off to a first-game flyer, leading New Zealand 14-5 until a 10th-minute yellow card left them a player short and suddenly overwhelmed.

The losing margin that day was only 14-19 but they were walloped 5-41 in their most recent rematch with New Zealand, a pool fixture played last month in America, and in Hong Kong, they lost 7-20 to Ireland, 7-24 to Fiji and 0-28 to Australia in pool matches before going down 14-15 to Great Britain and 14-17 to Spain in the rankings play-offs.

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Just 19 rankings points have been accumulated for an 11th-best position and it leaves them preparing for a relegation fight in Madrid once next month’s final regular season event is staged in Singapore.

Roos is backing her team to stay up. “We have really improved so much,” she insisted to RugbyPass in Hong Kong. “There has been growth in our system and playing at this level, it is definitely something different from the Challenger Series so it’s just up to us to take that to the relegation tournament when we get there to make sure we dominate.”

What has it been like on the SVNS pitch under the pump with the opposition being so relentless? “It’s not nice if they are piling on the points on the scoreboard but we still put them under pressure and yeah, there are some good moments. But in those good moments, we have some soft moments where we convert points against ourselves.

“You know the quality of SVNS rugby is very high, the standards are set high, so your discipline needs to be 110 per cent at all times, your work rate also. You are going into those dark holes you have never been in before and that is where you want to be, to break that ceiling and just go above and beyond that ceiling and just improve every time you set your foot out on the field.

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“South Africa is a good team in terms of we have different skills and everyone brings something different to this game. That is what is so beautiful about this game and that is what makes South Africa so unpredictable.

“We are strong runners, we have fast runners, we have speed, we have good skill, we have some good kickers as well, we have some good decision makers on the field as well so it’s better.

“When that collective comes together, that adversity just goes and it becomes something beautiful and powerful and that is something we do well as a team. We have had it tough and unfortunately things didn’t go our way.”

Last Saturday’s clash with Australia was an example of the issue. They had plenty of possession but trying to turn that into points led to errors and it left them beaten by four converted tries to nil. “We had a great performance against Australia,” Roos reckoned.

“From the start of the game, the kick-off, we put them under pressure in their half but that is where we maybe lack a bit of experience where at some point we will get the opportunity to actually convert those points, to convert pressure into points, but overall a good fight off the ladies.

“The massive thing for us is these are quality teams. Australia is one of the best teams on the circuit and not getting 50 (put on us) against them is really a positive for us. Obviously, we want to put points on the board but that time will come eventually.

“Going back to Dubai, that great game against New Zealand, they are still one of the best teams and we dominated that. Even this weekend against Australia we had some good moments we can be positive about and build on.

“That puts a lot of pride in my heart for this team and just playing in this iconic stadium in Hong Kong just to show our talent, it’s beautiful how people out here support the team, support all rugby teams here and if it just keeps growing, that is great.”

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