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One Scotland improvement has the Springboks very much on guard

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Jacques Nienaber has outlined why the Springboks are alert to the danger posed to their creativity by Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy in next Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series encounter at Murrayfield. The Scots successfully applied the brakes last Sunday to a Wallabies outfit that twice defeated South Africa in the Rugby Championship in September.  

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Now the Scots have the world champion Springboks in their sights in Edinburgh and Nienaber, whose team has defeated the All Blacks and Wales in their most recent outings, went to great lengths at his team announcement media briefing on Tuesday to insist how greatly improved Gregor Townsend’s team is since the 2019 World Cup. 

Whereas the Springboks were crowned world champions 24 months ago with their win in the final over England, Scotland’s tournament had ended three weeks before that with their pool stage elimination at the hands of host nation Japan.   

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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber looks ahead to their match versus Scotland
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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber looks ahead to their match versus Scotland

Since then, though, Tandy came on board with Scotland and major improvements were to be seen in the past two Six Nations championships. Whereas in 2018 and 2019 they conceded 253 points and 31 tries in ten outings, these numbers fell to just 160 points and 17 tries in the past two championships. 

In contrast, England’s record in the 2020 and 2021 Six Nations saw them concede 193 points and 20 tries, Ireland conceded 190 and 21, Wales 201 and 22, and France 220 and 23. No wonder then that Nienaber wanted to get Springboks fans on message that Scotland are an increasingly hard nut to cross.  

“We want to take our opportunities,” explained Nienaber after he confirmed a Springboks XV showing three changes following their success over Wales in Cardiff last weekend. “I felt we definitely took some of our opportunities when it was on to run, even if it was in our own half if it was on, but there were some that we missed. We are constantly trying to improve our decision making and our awareness of when an opportunity is given to us that we take that opportunity.

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“We are continuously working on that but if you look at Scotland and the Test match we are going to face this weekend, Scotland have been the best defensive side in the northern hemisphere in 2020 and 2021. They conceded the least tries and the least points in the Six Nations so they are a formidable side to break down. They don’t concede a lot of points and a lot of tries.

That speaks volumes for Steve Tandy, who after the World Cup joined Scotland. Steve and Gregor were both Lions coaches so they also coached against us in the (recent) series. That is the quality of the Test match that we will face this weekend.”

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