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Nienaber defends his 3 most contentious Bok selections calls

By Jan De Koning
(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Jacques Nienaber has defended his decision to retain players like Duane Vermeulen, Retshegofaditswe Nche and Joseph Dweba – despite their underwhelming performances in South Africa’s recent loss to New Zealand.

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The Springbok coach doggedly stood up for the players that will start against Australia in a Rugby Championship outing in Adelaide this coming Saturday.

The trio – Dweba, Nche and Vermeulen – were all yanked off well before half-time in the 23-35 loss to the All Blacks at Ellis Park earlier this month.

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The Boks were trailing 0-15 when the Nienaber carried out the first of the substitutions.

Malcolm Marx replaced Dweba on the half-hour mark, Steven Kitshoff (for Nche) and Jasper Wiese (in place of Vermeulen) following five minutes later.

Nienaber surprised many pundits with his team announcement on Monday – when he named Dweba, Nche and Vermeulen to start in the crunch Round Three outing in Adelaide.

The selection of Dweba – who managed just one carry and one tackle, to go with his four line-outs lost in a forgettable performance – was expected to be replaced by Marx.

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Marx, Man of the Match in the first Round win over New Zealand in Nelspruit, had a much more productive outing than Dweba at Ellis Park – with 11 tackles, nine successful line-outs and a turnover.

However, he will again play off the bench.

Nienaber was cautious, trying to avoid giving too much detail, but said there are “technical” reasons for selecting the team he named for the Adelaide encounter.

The Bok coach was adamant that they see the front rows – both the starting combination and the bench – as a single unit.

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“We don’t see them, necessarily, as No.1 and No.2,” he told a media briefing.

“There is a tactical and technical reason why we select them like we do.

“We wouldn’t like to give too much of our game plan away, but there is a reason for that and players know it.

“As long as they know it and they buy into it,” he said – adding that they always have “open and honest” discussions with the players in regards to selection decisions.

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“The players are happy with it, we are happy and comfortable with it.”

He said not all the detail around the individual selections are for public consumption, but the reasons are often ‘tactical’.

“There are certain tactical boxes that the guys who start [the match] have to tick and the players know the goals they need to achieve,” Nienaber said.

“Sometimes, they achieve them in 35 minutes, and sometimes, they achieve them in 50 minutes and sometimes 20 minutes.

“There are certain things they have to achieve.

“If we feel it is the right time tactically, then we’ll make the substitution.

“However, where we’re different from other teams is that we don’t see the starting pack and the bench as two groups.

“We see them as a unit that gives us a tactical advantage.”

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The Bok coach also said there were certain conversations that they had with players that required them as coaches and management to respect the confidentiality and trust of the players.

“They want the conversation to stay between us. We want to be as open and transparent as possible, but there are some game-related matters that we don’t want out in the media.

“I may have been wrong to say it was a privilege, but it was because those conversations can vary into a lot of things.

“The players will tell you we’re open and honest, but we have to be guarded about our tactics.”

Vermeulen, who looked short of a gallop in Johannesburg – after last playing for Ulster against the Stormers in the United Rugby Championship semifinal in mid-June – is set to get an extended run in Adelaide.

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His three caries at Ellis Park yielded just 14 metres and he made just three tackles.

However, Nienaber believes Vermeulen is good value for his selection.

“We definitely expect more minutes out of Duane this weekend,” the coach said. “He’s been training well and we are looking forward to seeing him again.

“We all know what quality he is and the experience he brings. We have had a good week with him.”

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