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Things get awkward when Nienaber quizzed on Dweba selection

By Ian Cameron
Siya Kolisi (captain) of South Africa and Jacques Nienaber (coach) of South Africa during The Rugby Championship match between South Africa and New Zealand at Emirates Airline Park on August 13, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber has refused to explain the thinking behind starting Joseph Dweba against the All Blacks in Johannesburg.

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The Springboks were toppled by New Zealand 35-23 at Ellis Park stadium and some critics have now called into question some of the selection decisions of Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus.

An injury to first choice hooker Bongi Mbonambi prior to the Test saw Nienaber and co. shuffle their front-row hand. Dweba – a highly-rated but inexperienced prospect at hooker – was nonetheless a surprise selection given it appeared to come at the expense of Malcolm Marx.

Marx put in a world-class, man-of-the-match performance against the All Blacks in the first Test of the Rugby Championship in Nelspruit, but found himself on the bench for the second test.

The selection of Dweba backfired hard though. The Bordeaux Begles frontrower conceded an early scrum penalty and struggled with line-out throws – one was stolen and the other missing its mark.

In the end, it took just 29-minutes for Nienaber to give him the shepherd’s crook and bring on the more established Marx.

Nienaber was asked about the selection after the game and claimed there was a rugby reason but that he would not say what it was.

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“There’s always a reason – a rugby reason why we did that, but that’s privileged,” said Nienaber. “The players all know [the reason]. Every single player knows why we went that route and there’s a very logical reason why we did that.”

Then when asked were the All Blacks targeting Dweba’s lineout throwing, Nienaber simply answered ‘Yep’.

The selection of veteran Duane Vermuelen was also called into question. The Ulster No.8 is returning from surgery and failed to fire on his first game back for the Springboks since their defeat to England last November.

There was a marked improvement when Jasper Wiese came on, even if he did give away a braindead penalty for tackling Aaron Smith after the whistle had been blown.

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Vermeulen, who will be 37 by the time the World Cup next year, clearly has a major battle on his hands to win back the No.8 jersey with the likes of Wiese, Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw snapping at his heels.

While much of talk has been around Ian Foster’s future as All Blacks coach, Nienaber hasn’t been without his critics. As has been pointed out by several accounts, Foster in fact has a superior win ratio to his South African colleague’s.

According to Rugby Database on Twitter, Foster’s 65 per cent win ratio compares favourably with Nienber’s 61 per cent.

Foster’s Rugby Championship stats are even more favourable, with a 66 per cent win ratio again significantly better than Nienaber’s 50 per cent equivalent in the competition.

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