Boks decommission the bomb squad for Wallaby mission
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made just two changes to the starting XV for Saturday’ Rugby Champion clash against Australia in Adelaide.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has departed from his favoured six/two split between forwards and backs on the bench for Saturday Rugby’s Championship clash against the Wallabies in Adelaide.
After using a forwards-heavy bench — or the famed bomb squad — against Wales and the All Blacks earlier this year, Nienaber said a five/three split would suit the Boks’ tactical approach this weekend.
That means a recall for flyhalf Elton Jantjies on the bench. It’s the first time this year the Boks have chosen two recognised flyhalves in the match-day 23 with Handre Pollard starting.
Although Damian Willemse began his professional career as a flyhalf, he has been used primarily as a fullback and centre over the past two seasons and is no longer viewed as an out-and-out No 10.
Veteran utility back Frans Steyn also returns to the bench for his first Bok appearance this season. The 35-year-old double-World Cup winner, like Willemse, started his career as a flyhalf but has spent most of it as a centre or fullback.
Willie le Roux is rested this week to make way for Steyn, while impressive No 8 Jasper Wiese is the forward to make way from the squad that lost 35-23 to the All Blacks at Ellis Park nine days ago.
With the extra backline player on the bench, combined with Steyn’s versatility and starting fullback Willemse’s wide range of positional flexibility, it gives the bench an entirely different look.
Starting flyhalf Handre Pollard can play inside centre and has done so alongside Elton Jantjies for the Boks in the past.
Against the All Blacks, outside centre Lukhanyo Am showed what a magnificent rugby player he is by turning in a superb cameo on the wing when the Boks’ backline needed an early reshuffle after Jesse Kriel was injured.
And adding to the backline’s multi-dimensional make-up is that right-wing Warrick Gelant has played most of his career at fullback and occasionally at centre. Nienaber certainly has every base covered in the backline for this week’s challenge.
Gelant was one of the stars of the Stormers squad that won the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC). He and Willemse, who played centre for the Stormers, were a sensational double-act in the URC. Although their positions are different in Bok colours, and although Gelant has not played a game in six weeks, Nienaber was enthusiastic about the prospect of the two combining again.
“Tactically there is not a big difference between 14 and 15 the way we play,” Nienaber said from Adelaide. “If you consider that Kurt-Lee (Arendse), who is currently suspended, played most of his rugby at fullback for the Bulls he played superbly on the wing for the Boks.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the chemistry between Warrick and Damian on Saturday.”
Faf de Klerk returns as starting scrumhalf after completing his concussion protocols, meaning Jaden Hendrikse drops to the bench with Herschel Jantjies falling out altogether.
Vermeulen and Dweba start
The coach has also opted to start with No 8 Duane Vermeulen and hooker Joseph Dweba again, despite the fact that the pair struggled in the opening half-hour against the All Blacks.
Vermeulen had spent eight weeks on the sidelines after minor knee surgery before the Ellis Park clash and was clearly off the pace in the 35 minutes he spent on the field.
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Dweba struggled with his basics in the Ellis Park cauldron, as the All Blacks targeted his lineout throwing in particular. But both will have a chance to amass more game time with Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith with hooker and loose forward reserves respectively.
“We also feel it is important to give the likes of Ox (Nche), Joseph (Dweba) and Duane (Vermeulen) another opportunity to further build combinations and give them valuable game time as we build toward the Rugby World Cup next year.
“With Franco (Mostert) and Kwagga (Smith) on the bench, we will have cover at lock and loose forward, while Frans Steyn’s versatility will also be handy as he can cover centre and fullback. These changes obviously mean that Willie (le Roux), Jasper (Wiese) and Herschel (Jantjies]) lose out, but we know what we have in them and what they bring to the team.”
After taking criticism for benching Marx for the Ellis Park clash against the All Blacks, Nienaber defended the continuation of the tactic for this week’s contest.
“There are technical reasons why we select the teams we do,” Nienaber said. “We are different to other teams because we see our front rows as a unit and not a collection of individuals.
“We don’t necessarily look at a player as the number one choice, or the number two choice. There is a tactical and technical reason why we select the way we do. The players know the reason and buy into it. It’s an open and honest discussion with them and the players are happy and comfortable with how we do it.
“We also feel it is important to give the likes of Ox, Joseph and Duane another opportunity to further build combinations and give them valuable game time as we build toward the Rugby World Cup next year.”
Poor Aussie record
Nienaber’s assertion that the current selection was about “building” for the World Cup could be interpreted as not caring about the present. Or at least, diminishing current objectives in lieu of long-term gain.
Coupled with the Boks’ poor record in Australia in the professional era — just four wins in 29 visits — the coach was asked whether the Boks undervalue Tests against the Wallabies.
“It’s a massive challenge for us, it is a tough place to win,” Nienaber said. “There is definitely no difference when you represent your country against New Zealand, Fiji, Australia or Namibia — you want to produce a performance to make your country proud.
“We don’t just have an eye on New Zealand and a lesser stance on Australia.
“Playing Australia in Australia is tough. I can’t talk about other sides, but we as a group have been together and played three and lost all three. We have a zero per cent win record so it will be a tough game and a big challenge for us.
“The passion that Australia plays with in front of their home crowd makes it a massive challenge for us, and we will prepare as best we can to get a result, but it is a tough place to win.”
15-Damian Willemse, 14-Warrick Gelant, 13-Lukhanyo Am, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Makazole Mapimpi, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Faf de Klerk, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi (captain), 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Joseph Dweba, 1-Ox Nche
Replacements: 16-Malcolm Marx, 17-Steven Kitshoff, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-Franco Mostert, 20-Kwagga Smith, 21-Jaden Hendrikse, 22-Elton Jantjies, 23-Frans Steyn. DM