Green and Gold match underlines challenges Boks face in rugby trials

Green and Gold match underlines challenges Boks face in rugby trials
Damian Willemse of Springbok Gold, Manuel Rass of Springbok Gold and JD Schickerling of Springbok Green challenge for the high ball during the Castle Lager Springbok Showdown match between Springbok Green and Springbok Gold at DHL Newlands Stadium on October 03, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Shaun Roy/Gallo Images)

The “Green and Gold” Springbok trial at Newlands at the weekend underlined how far behind the national team would be at next month’s scheduled Rugby Championship in Australia.

Forget about the score – these were two scratch teams thrown together at short notice – but the overall below-par performances were a microcosm of what the Boks will look like if they participate in the Rugby Championship.

With so many senior overseas-based Rugby World Cup 2019 winners injured and almost no game time for those players based at home, the Springboks cannot be competitive against Australia and New Zealand in particular.

At Newlands, these problems were magnified as 50 of South Africa’s best went head to head. For the record, Siya Kolisi’s Greens beat Lukhanyo Am’s Gold’s 25-9.

The set pieces, particularly the Green team’s scrum, were solid. Lineouts were a little less consistent but in general play accuracy, cohesiveness and intensity for 80 minutes were lacking.

To compete against the All Blacks and Wallabies, who have been playing post-lockdown rugby for nearly four months, the Boks have to play at maximum intensity for 90 minutes. Frankly, the players aren’t ready for that yet. They might be, if they could have four more weeks of rugby before flying to Australia, but the reality is different.

Players considered for Rugby championship selection will have one weekend to play matches in the newly minted “Super Rugby Unlocked” before they have to gather in a Bok camp. They will then go through Covid-19 testing in South Africa before aiming to be in Australia by 17 October. The squad will have to be in quarantine for two weeks before they can start “proper” training.

In that environment, it appears they won’t be able to prepare effectively and if one player tests positive for Covid-19, the entire “bubble” is compromised.

Bok coach Jacques Nienaber has some real headaches on the horizon. He will spend more time pouring over the physiological data from the Newlands match than the playing data. If the Boks go to Australia – and that remains a big ‘if’ – his first selection criteria is going to be players who can retain intensity the longest.

The Green team, coached by Bok assistant Mzwandile Stick, looked closer to a Test team than the Gold unit. Their set piece foundation, at least, mirrored that of the Boks circa 2019 but even so, they were far from clinical and consistent.

From the superior set piece platform halfbacks Sanele Nohamba and Elton Jantjies profited, but the Gold team didn’t provide enough pressure to really make life uncomfortable.

Kolisi, who famously lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama 11 months ago, didn’t try to hide the shortcomings he experienced and witnessed in the match.

“We are in a good place as South African rugby with our talent, but we are a long way off in terms of fitness and match readiness from where we were at the World Cup,” Kolisi said in a post-match interview.

“It was really special for all of us and for me personally to see the young guys. I wanted to make sure the guys felt welcome and spent some time sitting down with them. It was special to see them perform tonight.”

Captain, Lukhanyo Am of the Springboks Gold evades being tackled by Thomas du Toit and Kwenzo Blose of the Springboks Green during the Castle Lager Springbok Showdown match between Springbok Green and Springbok Gold at DHL Newlands Stadium on October 03, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Stick explained that while uncertainty remains over Rugby Championship participation, he was just focused on doing what he can to prepare players in case they take that flight to Sydney in a fortnight.

“We wanted to make it as close as possible to a Test match. We wanted to put pressure in the air and we didn’t want to give them time and space with ball in hand,” Stick said. “We wanted to use our set piece and kicking game – that’s what the Springbok game is all about.

“It’s (playing in the Rugby Championship) not in our hands,” he added.

“Our job is to make sure that we prepare the players. Since the start of the year and during lockdown there was a lot of information shared between us and the players. 

“We are doing everything in our power to make sure the players are ready, but because they haven’t played for six months it’s also very important to manage the players. 

“We don’t want to put them under pressure and play them for 80 minutes week in, week out; even now you can see players getting small injuries. So, the most important thing right now is player welfare and how we look after them. 

“If our executive and director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus decides we have to go then we will do everything in our power to make sure we’re ready to go.”

Gold team coach Deon Davids – who joined the Springbok coaching staff this year, replacing RWC 2019 forwards’ coach Matt Proudfoot – said the Green and Gold match achieved its objectives.

“The reason for the game was to showcase the talent and also to build experience and share information between the senior players and the youngsters,” said Davids.

“The young players have been exposed to the Springbok environment and it was a wonderful week in our team – and it’s what I hear from team Green as well – with the senior players sharing their experience and offering guidance.

“It was also a fantastic opportunity to look at the players’ ability in training and see where they are in terms of preparation and what is needed. It is very early in the ‘season’ – this was only the second game – and we’ll get more answers from here on in.

“We hope the players have learnt some valuable lessons and will take those back in order to become better players.” 

Difficult to evaluate individuals

Few players came out of the match with reputations enhanced, and some, such as a woefully out-of-form flyhalf Damian Willemse, had them dented. Which only served to add uncertainty for Nienaber and co.

He doesn’t have a big enough sample of playing time to know if Willemse, who was part of the RWC 2019 squad, had a bad day or is going to take weeks and months to return to form. The Boks don’t have that luxury if they go to Australia.

Conversely, Nohamba and wing Yaw Penxe did their causes no harm with strong displays, but conversely, was it a one-off performance by both players, or are they in a rich vein of form?

Bok scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, who was one of the stars of 2019 and was in magnificent form in the first seven rounds of 2020 Super Rugby before lockdown, looked a shadow of the player he is. He was behind a beaten pack and his problems would also have filtered into Willemse’s game. 

If the Boks go to the Rugby Championship, Nienaber is going to have some interesting selection headaches. He will have to pick on reputation as much as future promise, because current form is an even less accurate metric to lean on. 

Penxe, who is one of the players without a job after the Southern Kings recently liquidated, did enough to have Bok backline coach Stick purring. 

“I am so glad that you mentioned a guy like him because of what they are going through at the EP Kings,’ Stick said. “With the way he played… if I was a coach somewhere, surely I would take the opportunity to bring him in.

“I have worked with him since he was 19 at the Kings. I also coached him at the Baby Boks in 2017. I know he is a player with great potential. You could see under the high ball, he was very aggressive.

“I would be surprised if Yaw, in two weeks’ time, will still be in Port Elizabeth. There will be a lot of teams after him. I am actually happy. They are going through tough times. What is happening in PE is not nice to see. I have got a soft spot for Eastern Province. I am who I am today because they gave me the opportunity.

“I will be happy to see Yaw get an opportunity with one of the top teams in South Africa.”

That “top team” could be the Springboks. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Greg La Cock says:

    Awful rugby… who would pay to watch that kind of thing?

  • Wren Ingle says:

    Here is the logical approach: Don’t send a team to the championship for the following reasons……
    1. The new coaches, new players and regurgitated team cannot get ready in time.
    2. Keep our reputation intact by staying at home
    3. Do not expose the players to Covid by travelling. They are the country’s most valuable ambassadors for the next three years
    4. No South African wants to be humiliated by the All Blacks

    Unfortunately, I believe the tour will go ahead because of monetary reasons rather than considering any of the above. The woeful display of ineptitude by players and coaches on Saturday was a shocker. The game moved from scrum to penalty to scrum …. the first because of basic errors and the latter because a lack of applying laws.

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