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Springboks blame game: 'I obviously did some big things wrong'

By Liam Heagney

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Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber has insisted his squad are ready to battle the Lions despite Saturday’s embarrassing 17-14 defeat in Cape Town for South Africa A versus Jake White’s Bulls who came from a 14-point interval deficit to surge to victory with a power-packed scoring burst in the last 15 minutes.

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Having defeated the Lions 17-13 last Wednesday, Nienaber wanted another South Africa A fixture to ensure as many players as possible in the virus-hit Springboks squad got some game time in the run-up to the three-game Test series against the Lions which begins in Cape Town next Saturday.

However, the last thing he would have bargained for was a South Africa A matchday squad containing nine 2019 World Cup-winning Springboks to lose to a franchise team that only last month were hammered by Italian side Benetton in the final of the Rainbow Cup.

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Nienaber accepted that the blame for the defeat, the second successive match in which South Africa A were held scoreless, should lie with him but in his defence, he explained that it wasn’t until lunchtime Friday that the official confirmation came through that his squad would play the Bulls as he claimed there was still a chance at that stage they could instead be facing the Lions, something the tourists insisted on Thursday would definitely not be happening.

Midfielder Damian de Allende, hooker Joseph Dweba and flanker Marco van Staden were the three repeat South Africa A starters from the win over the Lions who were starting a game for the second time in three days and converted tries from Aphelele Fassi and Wandisile Simelane had them 14 points clear at the break.

However, they failed to push on and were suckered by late converted tries from Keagan Johannes and Johan Grobbelaar before Chris Smith fired over a long-range 75th-minute penalty winner following a scrum infringement. Asked if this 17-14 South Africa A loss was an acceptable way for the Springboks to prepare for the Lions series, Nienaber said: “Are we ready? Yes, this was exactly what we wanted, not the loss but the game to give guys their opportunity to stake their claims for the Test in a week’s time.

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“The result didn’t go our way, not what we hoped for but we got a lot of answers in terms of the questions that we had over certain players. We knew the Bulls is the best franchise in South Africa and hats off to them for giving us this game and we needed a game to give answers and I felt we got a lot.

“You sit here quite emotional after a performance like that and if you give comments on individuals now it will be emotional comments. We have to go back and have a look at the game and have a look at individual performances. As a team, the performance wasn’t there. Some of them might have performed individually well but it didn’t come out as a team.

“It’s not the right place to go into individuals and say this guy or that guy (played well or poorly), but I felt we needed these questions asked of players under pressure to get some answers… I thought the Bulls were good and they were desperate. We knew they were going to be desperate. I have coached teams who have played national teams and your desperation levels are through the roof.

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“The first finger must point at us as management, myself as the head coach. I obviously did some big things wrong in the build-up to this game. The Bulls were good. It’s sad to say but they were more desperate than us and it starts with me,” continued Nienaber, the Springboks defence coach before his promotion last year to the head coach role.

“We only found out Friday lunchtime (that South Africa A would play the Bulls) and we didn’t do any analysis on them and yes, our pack wasn’t dominant. Normally we would do proper analysis on a team, how they contest, how they stop mauls, what their tactics are at scrum time. We didn’t do any of that because we just didn’t have time to analyse them because we only played on Wednesday.

“We are not looking for excuses but if you ask me did I expect a better pack performance in terms of set-pieces, yes. Definitely, we expected a proper set-piece platform for us to launch our attack off which we didn’t get today.”

Asked what the status was regarding the speculation the second and third Test games versus the Lions would be played in Cape Town rather than in Johannesburg as currently scheduled, Nienaber added: “I have got no clue. I try and stay clear of that as much as possible.

“For us as coaches, we just need to play. I am sure these organisers and medical committees will monitor those things and we must just trust their guidance and their feedback. Our job is to make sure we get this ready for Saturday. I don’t mind if we play in Cape Town or in Jo’burg.”

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Springboks blame game: 'I obviously did some big things wrong'

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