Springbok coach Nienaber clears up squad selections

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber. (Photo: Craig Mercer / MB Media / Getty Images)

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has chosen 43 players for the July series against Wales but not all will see game time as he looks to key areas.

There were a few surprising omissions when the Springbok squad was announced by coach Jacques Nienaber on Saturday, the biggest one being that of the first-choice No 8 Duane Vermeulen. 

Despite Vermeulen playing for Ulster in their United Rugby Championship (URC) semifinal 17-15 defeat to the Stormers on Saturday, Nienaber confirmed that Vermeulen is in the process of being operated on after a lingering injury. 

“Duane is going for a procedure during this week; I think he’s got clearance from his club to do his rehabilitation in South Africa. Then he will go through the procedure, through the rehab and once he’s cleared by his club we can pull him into our squad,” said Nienaber. 

Another omission was that of 35-year-old backline stalwart Frans Steyn, who was injured while playing for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup a few weeks ago. 

“He’s a player that we will probably pull into the squad during this year. We had an open conversation between us: ‘Do your rehab, make sure you’re 100% right, make sure you are in good physical [condition]. When we pick up an injury, we will pull you into the squad ASAP but don’t be hasty with your injury,’” said Nienaber. 

“The moment he is ready to go and he is good to go and he’s medically fit and there’s an opportunity for us to pull him in, we will pull him in.” 

Meanwhile, Johan Goosen, who has not run on to the rugby field once this year, was included in the squad. 

“He’s a guy that we’ve never worked with before, we thought it a great opportunity – seeing that our camp is in Pretoria – to bring him into camps and align him with our methods so that he can see how we operate, how we work, how information gets distributed,” said Nienaber. 

With Goosen, the thinking is more long term, with no current plans for him until after the Rugby Championship. 

“Johan [Goosen] got an injury a while back. He is somebody that we are looking at to cover as a flyhalf,” said the Bok coach. 

“If everything goes well, he’s medically fit, he can actually join us on the end-of-year tour if he’s playing good rugby.” 

The Springboks will therefore head into the incoming tour against Wales with only two fit out-and-out flyhalves, Handrè Pollard and Elton Jantjies. 

“When we move on from here into the Test matches, to Bloemfontein, to Cape Town and playing against New Zealand, [Goosen] will stay with the Bulls and finish his rehab and then he’ll probably start the URC competition next [season], playing a couple of games for the Bulls.” 

Jantjies is currently awaiting his court appearance – set for 17 June. He is facing charges of malicious damage to property and the contravention of the Civil Aviation Act for an incident in May. 

Jantjies has also been injured since the start of this year, continuing his rehabilitation in South Africa since then. 

With the uncertainty of availability of the Springboks’ second-choice flyhalf, along with no other out-and-out flyhalves in the 43-man squad, it will be interesting to see what Nienaber’s decision is in the future in the pivotal position, should Pollard go down. 

Siya Kolisi (right), the South Africa captain, talks to head coach Jacques Nienaber during the South Africa Springboks captain’s run at Cape Town Stadium on 6 August 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

URC final 

Nienaber has welcomed the fact that there are two South African teams – the Bulls and Stormers – in this weekend’s URC final despite the fact that it means he has less time with most of his Springbok players before their first Test match against Wales on 2 July. 

“For us, having two teams in the final is awesome. If you look at the long-term development of the players who are playing in these big quarterfinals, big semifinals, big finals of URC, that is the development you can’t buy,” said Nienaber. 

“You want players to play in big games like that, the development and experience they gain playing in big matches like that is invaluable.” 

There are currently only 16 players training at the Springbok alignment camp this week. 

“There are certain positions where we don’t have somebody in. There are props filling in as locks and locks filling in as loose forwards. We try to be as creative as possible to create as close to match intensity as we can,” said the Bok coach. 

Developing depth 

Nienaber admitted he was not pleased with the way the Springboks played in certain moments throughout their season last year and hinted at developing new attacking patterns. 

“We need to develop our game. We did a proper review of our season and we weren’t perfect at all. There’s a lot of growth for us within our team and we are working on various areas to grow and improve our game,” said the Springbok coach. 

Even though the game plan might be tweaked slightly, Nienaber was adamant that he does not pick teams for experiment or development but to win. 

“SA ‘A’ games are a great platform to develop [players]. When you represent your country, when you represent the Springboks, you want to win. 

“That’s why we do have a squad of 43 here because there are SA ‘A’ games lined up for the end-of-year tour where we can start introducing guys,” said Nienaber. DM


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