Boks show stability on the field, but off it things appear less solid
The team is also a victim in the Jantjies-Simjee story and the way they have chosen to deal with it, is to pretend it’s business as usual. It’s not.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has opted for stability on the field by selecting the same starting XV that did duty against Australia 10 days ago, for this Saturday’s crunch encounter against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
It’s a welcome sign of consistency in an inconsistent campaign so far. But it also comes at a time when there are indications of the positive team culture, which has been one of the hallmarks of this Bok side, creaking.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies and nutritionist Zeenat Simjee were sent home from Argentina on Sunday after revelations of a tryst between the pair. Although their private lives and the consequences of their alleged liaison are really no business of anyone else, the details in the story published by Rapport details unpaid guesthouse bills and late-night disturbances for other residents. That takes it into a different sphere.
Those are issues that bring the Springboks into disrepute as the incidents allegedly occurred during a Test week, between two members of the Bok squad. The mere fact that they were sent home from tour is a tacit admission that they broke team protocols.
The fact that the Boks have tried to deny that protocols were broken borders on ludicrous. And then they compounded the negative publicity by muzzling Nienaber at a media conference, which is not a good look. Where is the honesty and the transparency that this current Bok set-up has been selling for years?
A simple question posed to Nienaber, about whether the revelations revealed in the story and the fallout over it had distracted the team, was not allowed. “We only want to talk about rugby,” was the message.
It’s a pity the Boks are seemingly regressing into a laager mentality again. Obviously Nienaber can’t comment on the intimate, personal relationship between two squad members, but he can talk broadly about squad dynamics and the team culture.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Alleged broken plane light, bloody knuckles and a court appearance for Springbok Elton Jantjies”
The alleged Jantjies/Simjee incident is unfortunate in the team context, but certainly not a crime. And it almost certainly isn’t the first time a Bok player has misbehaved on tour. But it is rare that a player, and in this case a member of management, have been recalled from a tour.
The Bok flyhalf is married and has three children and he will have to deal with the consequences of his family life privately. So will Simjee have to deal with whatever personal issues arise privately.
But the Bok team is also a victim in this story and the way they have chosen to deal with it, is to pretend it’s business as usual. And it’s not. Unless this incident is seen as acceptable in the Bok set-up, and if that is the case, it’s a worrying sign.
Treading on sturdier ground, Nienaber named the same starting XV that beat Australia 24-8 in Sydney 10 days ago for this must-win match. The outcome of the Rugby Championship is still in the air, with all four teams capable of winning it with two rounds remaining.
On the bench though, Nienaber has opted for rotation, bringing in flank Elrigh Louw over Duane Vermeulen, recalling Faf de Klerk as scrumhalf cover, with Cobus Reinach dropping out and centre Andre Esterhuizen in place of Warrick Gelant.
Nienaber eventually veered a little off script when he spoke about the pressure the Boks put on themselves to win.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Boks’ season in tatters after abject Adelaide performance”
“I’ve said before that there’s a lot of pressure any national team has to deal with. There are two types. One is external pressure. Can we control that? No. There’s internal pressure, the type where we demand certain standards from each other. It’s about expectations. That’s the pressure we can control,” he said.
“Internal pressure is what we focus on. External pressure, be it injuries or even speculation, is something we have to brush aside because we can’t control it. It’s no use expending energy on it. We can’t change it.”
And speaking of pressure, the coach said he was expecting a tough encounter against a side that has already beaten the Wallabies and All Blacks this season.
“This is a game they (the Pumas) will definitely target. If we look at their team selection, we are under no illusion that we will encounter a fired-up, physical Argentinian side that knocked off Australia and New Zealand,” Nienaber said.
“They will target us and that is why we are treating it like a semifinal, because it will be a good test for players to handle the pressure situation of a pressure game; there will be a lot of heat in the game and the crowds will be hostile. It will be an ideal game to measure players and if they can handle a hostile situation.
“Argentina are a passionate country, they are a proud team and have lots of struggles without a domestic league and the challenges of a lot of players overseas. They are a tough team, hard to break down and passionate to perform in front of their home fans.
“They are formidable. We saw in Christchurch how well they played, and how well coached they are. They have a lot of experience as well.”
Could be better
After a season that has yielded four wins and three defeats so far, Nienaber admitted that the side are not where they want to be yet. But he added the caveat that they have grown their long-term by mixing the side up in the early stages of the season.
This is the first unchanged starting XV of the campaign.
It means another start at flyhalf for the impressive Damian Willemse. He was excellent against Australia in Sydney and his versatility and ability to switch into the role of pivot, in light of Jantjies’s omission and Handre Pollard’s injury exclusion, are vital.
“Sometimes you’re confronted with things like injuries, like us losing Handre Pollard or what happened in the right wing position,” Nienaber said. “But it allows you to test your depth too. You get some experience in your squad.
“Are we where we should be in terms of winning the World Cup? Probably not, but there are a couple of reasons for that.
“We haven’t put a massive focus on continuity in selection. We have been thinking a bit broader – like giving Elrigh (Louw) an opportunity in a big game, and last time Canan (Moodie) in Australia where he took his opportunity. Jaden (Hendrikse) gets a start there and while we know consistency in selection leads to consistency in performance, we need other answers as well.” DM
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Reserves: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Elrigh Louw, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Frans Steyn.