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The Nienaber reaction to Steve Hansen's 'Boring Boks' accusation

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber has given his reaction to the latest criticism of his team’s style of play, ex-All Blacks coach Steve Hansen using a radio show appearance over the weekend in New Zealand to unload on the standard of rugby played by South Africa and the Lions in their recent three-match Test series.


The Springboks bounced back to win the series 2-1 after losing the opening Test on July 24, but the spectacle was far from pretty and the lack of entertainment was widely criticised in the aftermath. Hansen has now joined this lengthy queue of Springboks critics by attacking the approach of Nienaber and Lions boss Warren Gatland in the series.

“You have got two big packs and two coaches who don’t have any belief in what is going to happen if they throw the ball around, so they just beat each other up,” alleged Hansen. “‘Let’s slow the ball down, let’s get off our feet, do whatever we can to make sure our defensive line is stable so we can keep battering’.

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“It’s not a game that anybody wants to watch. Yes, we want a good physical contest, that is what the game is about – physicality, speed, using the ball and skill. Could you say we saw that in that series? Of course we didn’t and it turned a lot of people off.”

With the Springboks having emerged from their recent 23-hour in-room isolation in rude health following the cancellation of their planned Monday training session in Queensland, Nienaber fronted a virtually held media session on Tuesday on how his squad have been settling in since flying to Australia last Thursday from Cape Town on a charter flight shared with Argentina.  

Both teams are now quarantining in the same shared facility ahead of their next Rugby Championship matches on the Gold Coast on September 12 and aside from being quizzed on what that settling-in period has been like, Nienaber was also asked about the negative Hansen reflection on the style of Springboks play and whether he is getting tired of comments like this. “Yes,” he said. “To be honest, I didn’t see the comment. With everything that has happened to us and the quarantine stuff and us doing our review and having our goal for this week and what we have to produce as a team, I didn’t see Steve’s comments. 


“But for me on playing styles, as I have said in the past, each team has its own squad, has its own skill set and will have its own unique athletic ability and DNA and they will play towards what strengths their DNA. That is the beauty of rugby. It’s the different styles and different ways to win Test matches. You play what you see in front of you and then you have to adapt to that. 

“In 2019, I don’t want to go back to that continuously but in the quarter-finals, we played one of the most exciting, most attacking teams in Japan. Then in the semi-final, we had to adapt and change our way of playing to play against Wales and it was pretty much this massive arm wrestle. Then we played England which was probably a good blend between the two, between Japan and Wales. 

“They had a good kicking game, a good defence system, put you under pressure in various ways. Not that the others don’t do it but, as I say, each team has got its own DNA and your ability to adapt to that and also play to your strengths and your DNA, pretty much every team in the world is going to do that.”

Nienaber was speaking from Australia at a media conference he shared with the fit-again Duane Vermeulen, the 2019 World Cup final man of the match who hasn’t played since for his country as he was left requiring ankle surgery following a June injury while playing for the Bulls in the lead-up to the Springboks’ July Test match resumption after a 20-month layoff between fixtures due to the pandemic. 


Both South Africans sounded delighted to be on the ground in Australia preparing for the Springboks’ four remaining Rugby Championship matches, two games each against the Wallabies and the All Blacks. However, neither were willing to take any questions at the session regarding the upcoming misconduct case featuring Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby.

Director of rugby Erasmus fell foul of World Rugby during the Lions series with his trenchant criticism of the match officials and while his actions remain a major talking point for rugby fans around the world, the hot topic was off-limits at the Springboks press conference, media manager Rayaan Adriaanse explaining at the start of the briefing that no questions on Erasmus, who hasn’t travelled to Australia, were welcome. 


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