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The 'quite honest' warning the Springboks have issued to the world

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images)

It doesn’t look polished on paper for Jacques Nienaber, his Springboks only winning seven of their twelve matches this calendar year with one fixture remaining – this Saturday’s encounter away to England in London. The July home series versus Wales was only clinched 2-1, they were only good enough for second place in The Rugby Championship after winning four of their half-dozen matches, while their Autumn Nations Series tour began with two losses before Italy were beaten last Saturday.

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Think Nienaber is worried? Think again. The Springboks head coach is showing no signs of anxiety that his team is currently running at only a 58 per cent success rate for 2022 compared to, say, World Cup hosts France, who are 100 per cent with ten wins, and RWC pool opponents Ireland, who are 81 per cent with nine wins from eleven.

The Nienaber message coming out of London in the lead-up to the final Springboks game of this year was that they are nearly ready to capably defend their World Cup title in ten months’ time, a campaign that will feature a seminal group clash with the Irish in Paris before a likely quarter-final meeting with either the French or the All Blacks, again in Paris.

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“People want to know that we are getting answers but that is the thing on this tour and especially this game (with England) where we play this Test match out of the (player release) window – and the SA A games, we wanted to see certain players play with a Springbok on their chest,” began Nienaber when quizzed whether this Autumn Nations Series tour had ticked the boxes the Springboks wanted to tick.

“Although it is against clubs, you play for your country so it is a little more pressure and we wanted some answers on certain players and we got some answers on certain players, and the same on Saturday.

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“We always want to improve and develop and build our game in all the aspects and we are trying stuff just like all the other teams are trying. If you look at it, although we had two narrow losses against the No1 and No2 teams in the world away from home (Ireland and France), I have to be quite honest, we internally know that we are not far off being contenders for the World Cup next year and the world knows that we are not far off.

“We are still building and we are still trying to get some results and get some answers in certain aspects but we certainly believe and know we are not far off being contenders and I think the world knows that as well.”

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4 Comments
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AlexH 597 days ago

Manie Lubbock put his hand up today in a pressure cooker when Willie was subbed. First time in my memory that I think the Bok backs are on a par with the forwards. Really balanced team. So much depth at wing - Kolbe, Mpimpi, Moodie, Aarendse… Eish. Can’t wait to see PSDT, Pollard, RG Snyman, Am and Lood back in the mix. Think there is decent cover for those all except 13. Libbok / Pollard 10, WLR/ Willemse 15. We do need a legit kicker.

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Flankly 601 days ago

An intensity-based pressure game will tend to improve for the big occasions. Additionally we know that Rassie works backwards from his goals, so there has to be an plan to peak at the RWC. In that context one-score losing differentials against top teams are broadly on-track, at this stage. The stated goal this year was squad development, and you would have to give them credit for building a decent depth chart this year, at almost every position. IMV Jacques should be most concerned about the depth at #10, #13 and #15. In those positions the second and third choices are solid, but the Bok attack loses its edge without Pollard, Am and/or Le Roux.

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Nickers 1 hours ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

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Thomas 1 hours ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

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