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World Rugby award snub won't bother the Springboks

By Neil de Kock
(Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

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With back-to-back wins over Wales and Scotland, the Springboks have generated fantastic momentum on the year-end tour ahead of their clash against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

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The incredible depth and strength of the Springbok squad makes it very difficult for opposition to absorb pressure, particularly when the game gets lifted by an extra 10 to 15 percent when the replacements come on. Their dominance at the breakdown was so evident in the last 30 minutes against Scotland, and it was very difficult for the hosts to get a grip on the game in the final stanza.

In the merry-go-round of coaching, former Springbok forwards coach Matt Proudfoot now occupies the same role with England. It will be a bit of an advantage to have Proudfoot involved with England in their preparation for the Springboks. Having been part of the 2019 World Cup-winning campaign, Proudfoot will have much more insight than Eddie Jones in terms of how the Boks recently operated.

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That insight may be useful for England, but plans are all good and well until you need to execute them. England will need to find ways in order to get the upper-hand against two very well-drilled and powerful packs.

The replacement front row, which comprises Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch, was immense against Scotland and, by all accounts, detonating the famed ‘Bomb Squad’ is far easier said than done. I’m not a professional in the engine room and never have been, but this week I believe Proudfoot will be working on trying to nullify not one but two packs at all costs on Saturday.

How England do that is going to be interesting because I don’t think any team has got it 100 per cent right yet against South Africa. Australia probably came closest because they scrummed really well, got just rewards at set-piece and nullified the much-vaunted Springbok maul.

In the back division, the Springboks have benched the Herschel and Elton Jantjies pairing with the 9-10 axis of Cobus Reinach and Handre Pollard. Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber might have said that Herschel needs to learn to manage the northern hemisphere conditions better – having only had 70 minutes – but I suspect that even if he had, Reinach would have started against England anyway.

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Reinach played for the Northampton Saints from 2017 to 2020 and is accustomed to the English conditions. Herschel hasn’t been exposed much to the northern hemisphere, but I’m sure improved game management will come with experience and time under the belt. I’m glad Jantjies squared got a good run and the faith was shown in them. They got the job done against Scotland and I don’t think either of them had a poor game, but it’s clear that South Africa are planning in advance.

In terms of the green and gold as a collective unit, it’s very difficult to be loved when the public and media have this perception that you are playing boring, frustrating rugby. If you are top of the tree and playing wonderful rugby then people like you. What frustrates many people – particularly in the UK – is that the Boks don’t necessarily play the most exciting brand all the time, but it’s effective.

By all means, they can write up England as favourites and I don’t think there will be one South African who will be upset. Owing to the form that the team is showing, South Africans are quietly confident the Boks can go out there and put in one more big performance before the end of the calendar year.

Touching on the fact that not a single Springbok player has been nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year award, the distinct beauty of this squad is that I don’t think any player is bothered by the snub.

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The reason I say that is because Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus have drummed into the players that the team comes first. I can guarantee you that the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi will stand back and say, “Guys, if we’re winning every Test match we’d much rather have that than any award that gets thrown our way on an individual front.”

None of the aforementioned players would be bothered that they aren’t on the shortlist. Some have suggested it’s World Rugby’s way of getting back at the Boks for Videogate, but I don’t believe there are such personal vendettas at play. The voting panel also had South African input so I don’t think anyone is going out of their way to make a statement against South Africa.

The four players on the list have played incredibly well. Have South Africa’s players performed a bit better? Perhaps there are two or three who might have, but it is what it is. Of the nominees, I would select Antoine Dupont as World Player of the Year.

The scrumhalf has been outstanding for a team that has at times been up and down. He’s fast, strong, boasts stellar skill-execution, is competitive and sound defensively. The 25-year-old has been in unreal form and is a game-changer and match-winner in equal measure.

Following an 11-year career with Saracens, which saw him earn 264 caps, Neil de Kock now works in the rugby division at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in South Africa. De Kock, who featured in 10 Test matches for the men in green and gold, provides RugbyPass with expert opinion and insight focusing on the southern hemisphere sides and, in particular, the Springboks.

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World Rugby award snub won't bother the Springboks

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