Why Boks will continue to put the boot in
Don’t expect South Africa to deviate too far away from the much-maligned tactics that have brought them zero results in the last three Rugby Championship Tests.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber hinted that kicking will remain a key part of their game plan when they face New Zealand at the conclusion of the tournament on Saturday.
The 2019 World Cup winners head into the game on Australia’s Gold Coast on Saturday after three straight defeats – including an agonising last-gasp 17-19 loss to the All Blacks last weekend, after a horror last 10 minutes that saw players repeatedly kick away possession.
Former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers labelled the Boks’ attacking tactics against the All Blacks as “disappointing”.
South Africa’s persistence to use the boot rather than attack with ball in hand was reflected in the match statistics, which showed the All Blacks made more than double the number of passes than the Springboks (142-66), who doubled the number of kicks made by the Kiwis (38-18).
In an interview with The Breakdown, the 40-year-old, who captained the Springboks in 37 tests, said South Africa could have actually beaten the All Blacks had they not made some “extremely poor” decisions with the game in the balance at the death.
“In the last four minutes, unfortunately, I think the decision-making was extremely poor and eventually gave away possession that cost them conceding that penalty and ended up costing them the game,” he told the New Zealand television programme.
However, the coach, Nienaber, said you must look at the team’s tactics ‘objectively’.
He admitted there are two games – the first Test against Australia (a 26-28 loss on the Gold Coast) and this past weekend’s encounter in Townsville – where they could have managed the game better at the back end.
“We could have made some replacements earlier, from a coaching perspective,” the Bok coach said, adding: “Bringing some new energy onto the field.”
Asked if they will change their strategy this week, he said their approach depends on what the All Blacks bring to the game.
“If New Zealand gives us space in a different area of the field, we’ll take it,” Nienaber said after naming his team for Saturday’s outing.
“If they load the frontline with 14 defenders and there is only one at the back, then the space will be at the back.
“Our ability to adapt to what picture they are painting to us, is going to be the key.
“It depends where they give us space. Our option is always to attack space.
“Sometimes attacking space will be to keep the ball in hand and sometimes space will be on the edge. Sometimes the space is behind them, and then we must, unfortunately, utilise the kicking game to get in behind them.”:
He said the Boks will always attack space with what they feel they are good at – their ‘DNA’.
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“We feel that [kicking] is our DNA and that is what we are good at,” the coach added.
He admitted they have now lost three games in a row with the much-criticised kicking strategy.
“I feel – in the first Test against Australia and the last Test against New Zealand – we were within two to three minutes to go we were in a position to win those games.
“We spoke about that and we can still improve and grow in terms of managing that department [closing out games].”
Nienaber stressed the importance of turning the corner and ending on a positive note as he announced a squad with two injury-enforced changes.
“We are bitterly disappointed about the results in the last few weeks and everyone in our team realises the importance of finishing the Rugby Championship on a winning note,” he said.
“We have no doubt that if we can build on the strong points of our game last week and improve further on the execution of our game plan, we can get the desired result.”
Nienaber added that winning would take “a colossal 80-minute effort, but the drive to succeed and motivation to win this weekend is as big as it gets.”
Tighthead prop Frans Malherbe was ruled out with a neck niggle, opening the door to Retshegofaditswe Nche. He will begin at loosehead prop, with Trevor Nyakane switching from that role to take over from Malherbe.
In the only other change to the matchday squad, back row forward Jasper Wiese comes onto the bench, replacing Marco van Staden who is sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Star wing Cheslin Kolbe, who has missed the last three matches with a leg problem, trained with the team this week, but suffered a late setback that again ruled him out.
* Additional reporting by AFP & RugbyPass