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'We were bold, not bold, but...': Springboks hail their bomb squad

By Liam Heagney

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Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber has hailed the impact of his South African bench, the rookie head coach deploying his bomb squad to match-winning effect to defeat the All Blacks in a round six Rugby Championship thriller on the Gold Coast. There have been questions about the coach’s sideline calls in the run of three recent defeats, the 2019 world champions losing two of those games to late penalty kicks. 

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However, Nienaber was far more proactive when calling the shots in his team’s rematch with the 2021 Rugby Championship title winners, the Springboks refusing to blink and eventually securing a last-gasp 31-29 clock-in-the-red victory over New Zealand with a kick from replacement Elton Jantjies. 

A week ago in the 19-17 loss in Townsville, Jantjies was left rooted to the bench as an unused sub. However, he was thrown into the Gold Coast fray with more than a half-hour still to play and was soon wielding a positive influence, providing the pass for Makazole Mapimpi to score a try before going on to land nine crucial points – including the winning penalty kick. 

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This added bomb squad impetus from the Springboks bench wasn’t solely restricted to Jantjies either. Frans Steyn was a half-time introduction for Willie le Roux at full-back. And Nienaber also boldly whipped off his entire starting front row just 38 minutes into the contest, sending on Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch for Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane at a junction in the game where they trailed 20-11 and looked like getting overrun by an All Blacks team that was three tries to one to the good heading towards the beak. 

When the dust settled on an epic, Nienaber addressed the influence wielded by his earlier than expected bomb squad tactical changes, Springboks players who had a huge involvement in wrestling back the momentum during a key period of the game and then having the steel to stay standing when going toe-to-toe with New Zealand coming down the finishing straight.  

“Last week we wanted to bring Elton on earlier and I said to him afterwards on the field as well I should have bitten the bullet,” he admitted, holding his hand up at his post-match briefing about how he got some things wrong seven days earlier in the round five encounter with the All Blacks. “I thought we got that a bit better today, the subs. The front row substitution, we see it as a group, they work in tandem. The first group were asked to do a specific job and once they have done that then the next group can come on. 

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“Sometimes it is at 35 minutes, sometimes it’s going to be at 38 minutes, sometimes it is going to be at 50 minutes, sometimes it is going to be at 60 minutes. The moment we feel they have done their part we will bring the other guys on. I thought they literally emptied their tanks with what they were trying to do. We were bold, not bold, but they did their job and that is when that substitution happened. We must never keep a substitution on the bench. They are there fulfil a role and I thought they were excellent when they came on.”

Switching to the impact made by 34-year-old veteran Steyn, who only played the last ten minutes in Townsville but was present for the full second-half on the Gold Coast, Nienaber added: “I thought Frans was brilliant and listen, sometimes players make errors. I thought Willie had a few good touches in the game where he really got us in there. That one cross-kick to (Makazole) Mapimpi, that ball bounces a little bit to the right and Mapimpi scores so I thought there was some good play from him but like I said, I felt last week we could have made our subs a little bit earlier.

“We have got quality players on the bench who can really influence the game. Frans has got this unbelievable ability in terms of kicking this 50:22s and it’s something we utilised. I thought Frans was good and he had been training well, excellently during the last four weeks. Very positive. He contributed, helping younger players. He has been awesome for us.”

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'We were bold, not bold, but...': Springboks hail their bomb squad

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