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Springboks explain lack of XV changes, what next game strategy is

By Liam Heagney

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Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber has explained the thinking behind why he wasn’t tempted to make wholesale changes to his team for next Saturday’s final match of the 2021 Rugby Championship versus the All Blacks on the Gold Coast. Just a single alteration has been made to the XVOx Nche starting at loosehead with Trevor Nyakane moving across to tighthead where the injured Frans Malherbe loses out.

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“No, we’re playing No1 and No2 in the world,” said Nienaber when asked why he limited the changes in his starting XV to just one. The restriction was similar on the bench, the only tweak seeing Jasper Wiese taking over from Marco van Staden who suffered a shoulder injury last weekend.

“Yes, one of our strategic goals is to create squad depth but also the biggest one is to win. Whenever we have the opportunity to do that, to give our rotational players a bit more exposure in Test matches, we will do that but missing out on so much Test match rugby in 2020 due to Covid, I feel as a team we need to get back to the standard we were on 2019 and we are still building towards that. From that perspective, when you play No1 and No2 in the world you play your best possible team available.” 

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Nienaber also addressed questions at the virtually held media session regarding the current kick-heavy Springboks strategy of play and whether it will be the same for Saturday’s rematch with the All Blacks whom they lost 19-17 to last weekend in Townsville. That was the third loss on the bounce for the 2019 world champions and the coach was pressed on whether it was now time to change tack.

“One must always look at it objectively,” insisted Nienaber, whose record as Springboks boss reads five wins and four losses. “We could have managed two games, the first Australian Test match and last week’s, we could have managed it a little better at the back end of the game, maybe could have changed or made a few subs from a coaching perspective. We could have got some lift of energy a little bit quicker in the team. 

Will we change the strategy? It depends on what New Zealand does. If New Zealand changes their strategy and the way they defend and do things and they give us space in a different area of the field we will take it but if they load the front line with 14 defenders and only one at the back, then obviously the space is going to be at the back and our ability to adapt to what picture they are painting for us is going to be the key. It depends on where they give us space. 

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“Our option will always be to attack space and sometimes attacking space will be by keeping the ball in hand because there is space in front of you in the front line and sometimes space will be on the edge and then you have to use your passing and then sometimes the space is behind them and then, unfortunately, you must utilise the kicking game to get into that space. Rugby will always stay the same in terms of that – you try and attack space and you also try and attack space with what you feel you are good at, your DNA as a team. We feel that (kicking) is our DNA, we feel that is what we are good at.  

“Yes, we can’t hide away from it, we lost three games on the trot now but in the first Australian Test match and this last game with two to three minutes to go we were in the position to win those games. We spoke about that and we can still go and improve in terms of managing that department and it’s not just players, it’s management as well.”

Nienaber added that winning the 2021 Rugby Championship title wasn’t a priority when he took the Springboks job. “The big thing when I got appointed in January 2020, the two big things we were aiming for were the Lions series and the World Cup. All the other tournaments were important but those were the big ones that we have to put our focus on… and we are still building up to where we were in 2019. 

“What these last three games have taught us, or taught me personally, is what is our DNA, what are we good at, what pressure points do we need to apply pressure on to try and get results that suit our players, our style of play and the athletic ability of our players. The moment we veer off that, if that foundation isn’t there, we struggled to impose our form of play on the opposition.

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“It was clear as day for me so we are still trying to get that back and going into 2022 if we have the opportunity to get more Test experience into our rotational group we would like to do that. The one positive of Covid with an extended squad, the young guys coming into the mix, we had the opportunity to have them with us now. Not always playing but the environment won’t be new to them and there won’t be this massive void. They will know how the system works and our big aim is still 2023.”

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Springboks explain lack of XV changes, what next game strategy is

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