No panic as Boks make minimal changes for return clash against Wallabies
There are only two changes to the Springbok squad to face the Wallabies in Brisbane, in their fourth-round Championship clash on Saturday.
Following last week’s 28-26 defeat to Australia, Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has shown exactly why the Boks have risen to No 1 in the world rankings by refusing to panic.
After a lacklustre performance in Gold Coast, where the defence was passive and the discipline “poor”, Nienaber would have been within his rights to wield an axe to send a message to underperformers, if nothing else.
But the current Bok set-up is not about making decisions emotionally and reacting to every setback with panic. Yes, it was a poor performance against the Wallabies last week and yes, several players — notably flyhalf Handre Pollard and outside centre Lukhanyo Am — underperformed by their own high standards.
Yet the only changes to the side see lock Marvin Orie come in for the concussed Lood de Jager and prop Trevor Nyakane start at loosehead with Steven Kitshoff moving to the bench in a rotational switch. That means prop Ox Nche drops out of the 23 this week.
Star wing Cheslin Kolbe has only just started running after a leg injury and wasn’t considered this week, meaning Sbu Nkosi retains his place and can join his colleagues in atoning for the setback.
“Lood’s experience will be missed, he has played 50 tests and Marvin only six,” Nienaber said from Brisbane. “But having said that, Marvin has played with Eben (Etzebeth) since schoolboy level and has experience in domestic rugby. We trust Marvin as a player and look forward to see what he can bring to the party.”
Nienaber and many senior members of the team have spoken in recent months about creating a legacy and performing to the same high standards consistently. Last week’s aberration was not at a high standard at all.
Losing doesn’t always equal playing poorly and winning doesn’t automatically mean a team played well. The Boks only lost last week with the final kick of the match when Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper slotted a 40-metre penalty. Had he missed and South Africa won, the Springbok review would have looked almost the same.
They are constantly learning from defeats and wins. The Boks have a 12-point checklist after each Test match and the 12th item is ‘result’. The only difference in their review this week was that the ‘result’ read ‘lost’.
Otherwise, the other sections would have included the same comments — ‘discipline poor’, ‘defence passive’, ‘kicking — general and at goal — poor’ and so on.
Results matter massively. If last week was a World Cup final then the review would have only focused on the result. But this is a six-round tournament at the halfway point and the result is not the only measurement of progress.
This is why Nienaber remains calm. As a qualified physiotherapist, he is a scientist by training and believes in measuring progress through processes.
The Boks’ short, medium and long-term goals remain set. And to achieve any of them, it comes down to consistent performances, growth and development as a team and individuals, which will ultimately bring more positive results.
Last week was a setback and by several measurements, the Boks were out of sorts. But if the outcome of the defeat is that they improve and perform at a higher level in Brisbane this week, it would re-confirm that their approach is working.
“We conceded four penalties for offsides, which is a lot for us,” Nienaber said. “At some stages we were under pressure but I felt some of those penalties we conceded were not called for. We were in control and our defensive system remained intact. That’s what I meant by our ill-discipline.
“It wasn’t that we conceded more penalties than Australia (the Boks conceded 11 to Australia’s 17), it was when and how we conceded them.
“Our first-time tackling was also not as good as it should have been (the Boks missed 21 tackles) and our kicking game wasn’t at the level it should’ve been. We conceded six points after conceding penalties on exits out of our half, which wasn’t like us.
“These are some of the areas we have identified in which we need to be more effective this week, and we have been working hard at training to rectify the mistakes we made. The key for us will be to be as competitive as possible in every contest during the match so that we can lay a good foundation to attack from and to use our point-scoring chances.”
Bok pack hurt
Nyakane watched from the stands in Gold Coast last week but having fully recovered from an ankle injury he has the chance to make a difference on the field this week.
Although over the 80 minutes last weekend the Bok pack dominated, they had two poor scrums — one close to their own line that cost three points and another in the final play of the game that led to Cooper’s winning penalty.
The Wallaby pack might have been using nefarious tactics to win those scrums, but regardless they did and it cost the Boks at crucial times. Nyakane wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“Look, the set-piece is always something we are trying to improve on,” Nyakane said. “Obviously, there were a few technical things that happened last week.
“It hurts us as a pack. It doesn’t matter where or how it happens, for us, we always scrum to be dominant. Whether that’s a scrum on the halfway line or our own five-metre line, we always thrive to be dominant and get 100% scrums. It was tough to see that.
“We as a team know we have to come back, look at those pictures and try to understand what happened. We have looked at those images and it’s deep in our hearts, it’s sore, it’s buried in the back of our minds.
“We know what they are capable of. We know that they will come at us much harder than they did last week, so we are prepared for that. We know it’s not just going to be a walkover. We always say we need to start with momentum and end with momentum. That applies to the set-piece. We will be doing all we can to be as dominant as we can.”
15-Willie le Roux, 14-Sbu Nkosi, 13-Lukhanyo Am, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Makazole Mapimpi, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Faf de Klerk, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Franco Mostert, 6-Siya Kolisi (captain), 5-Marvin Orie, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16-Malcolm Marx, 17-Steven Kitshoff, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-Marco van Staden, 20-Kwagga Smith, 21-Jasper Wiese, 22-Herschel Jantjies, 23-Damian Willemse. DM