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Ken Borland

Pressure gets real for Nienaber with need to renew balanced with results 0

Posted on August 22, 2022 by Ken

Re: The matter between Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and all the former national team coaches and players who have come out to criticise his selection for the second Test against Wales in Bloemfontein, which led to an historic first loss to the men from Cymru on home turf.

The defeat, following a fortuitous last-minute win in the first Test against a team that had been reduced to 12 men for some of the last 10 minutes, has put Nienaber and the Springboks in a concerning position – another loss in Cape Town on Saturday would give Wales the series and would be the first time South Africa have lost the majority of their mid-winter Tests at home since losing to the British and Irish Lions in 1997.

Losing the series to Wales would also put Nienaber under pressure to start anew, but then we have seen the next tier of players is not yet ready to take over judging by the way they let the Test in Bloemfontein slip. So in many ways, Nienaber really is between a rock and a hard place, with only a good victory in Cape Town on Saturday allowing him to wriggle into some breathing space.

The problem with being world champions is not only that you are the team with the biggest target on your backs, but that four years can be a long time in rugby and a side that won the previous World Cup might be just that little bit over the hill at the next showpiece tournament. It is the major reason why the defending champions have only retained their title once – the All Blacks going back-to-back in 2011 and 2015.

Coaches will naturally want to stick with the players they trust, the ones who won them the greatest prize in the sport. But they will also recognise the need to rejuvenate, to refresh their squad with new blood where necessary.

Thanks partly to the weakness of the rand and the number of foreign clubs eager to embrace South African talent, there is no doubt a fresh generation of exciting talent is starting to emerge at home, helped by the move into European competition.

Nienaber does need to look at them in the pressure of international rugby because some of them could well be key to defending the World Cup crown next year. But it is a balancing act and ideally you would want to introduce three or four players at a time with plenty of experienced, first-choice campaigners around them.

Perhaps Jake White is right and the fact that Nienaber has limited experience of being the head coach of a team led to him naively thinking that a squad with 19 changes to the 23 would be able to beat Wales.

I’m sure the number crunchers in the Randburg TV studios will know the answer, but I do wonder whether more people will watch the Springboks this weekend because the Test is a series decider or whether they prefer to watch a South African team sweeping all before them?

One thing is certain and White also made this point. The Springboks cannot rely on what won them the World Cup in 2019 working again next year. As we have seen with Wales, the opposition is getting better and better at countering the Erasmus/Nienaber game plan.

The Springboks need to grow, they need to change and evolve. I am sure Nienaber had this in mind with his selection for last weekend. It was a gamble that did not come off, much like playing the undercooked Elton Jantjies at flyhalf in the first Test. Sometimes the Springboks brains trust just try to be a little bit too clever.

Providing the first-choice players do the business on Saturday, it may just turn out to be a small step backwards, a valuable lesson, on the path to the 2023 World Cup.

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