VIDEO: How Nienaber is 'evolving' the Boks
South Africa is not just treading water, but actively looking to improve and evolve with the goal of retaining their World Cup crown in France later this year.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber said it would be “arrogant” to think the same game that won the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019 will be good enough for France #2023.
With just eight wins in 13 Tests – for a win percentage of 62 – it may look, on the surface, if there was no progress.
However, Nienaber believes some of those losses last year were just as valuable, if not more so, than the victories in terms of the lessons learnt.
He said the players they used in the last year or two – since the COVID-enforced break – is a good indication of who is in the World Cup mix.
However, the ‘development’ window was severely curtailed by the lockdown in 2020.
Nienaber said it would not have been beneficial for the Springbok game to play in 2020 – both financially and in terms of player welfare.
“It did cost us development,” the Bok coach said about 20 months of no game time for the national team, since their 32-12 with over England in the World Cup Final in Yokohama in November 2019.
“That is why last year was an interesting year,” Nienaber added.
“If you just go and bat for your own win percentage and the team’s win percentage, you wouldn’t have made the changes in that second Wales Test, for example.
“Then a guy like Kurt-Lee Arendse would never have had the opportunity and Canan Moodie would never have come through.”
He admitted there were questions about why they made 18 changes from one Test to another.
“[It was suggested we should] secure the series [against Wales] first.
“Although winning will always be our main strategic goal, development, squad development and creating squad depth and giving experience to players was massive and a big driver last year.”
The Bok mentor says the ‘benefit’ of that strategy came through at the back end of last season.
“We got some nice answers.
“The team is embracing the changes that we have made in the team.”
He added that from a leaders’ perspective, they must continue driving creative changes, otherwise it will catch up to the team down the road.
Nienaber also said that from a creative perspective, they must continue to evolve, otherwise, teams will catch up and overtake South Africa.
“There are certain creative things that we are trying to do,” the coach said.
“We mustn’t get arrogant and think that we won the World Cup in 2019 and if we do the same things we will win it again.
“You have to change, adapt and evolve.
“Last year was big for us in terms of that [evolving].
“It’s a process.
“We got to grips with the changes that we wanted at the back end of the season.”
He added that the ‘change’ starts on the training field, without pressure.
“You want that change to come through in a Test, where there is pressure and the country’s name [honour] is at stake.
“That [change] takes time.”
(Article continues below Jacques Nienaber interview …)
South Africa’s Head of Athletic Performance Andy Edwards, speaking at the Boks’ three-week training camp in Cape Town, lifted the lid on some of their plans to get the team in shape for the World Cup
Edwards, a former Saracens strength and conditioning coach, joined the Boks in August 2020 when he replaced Aled Walters.
“The Bok job is pretty unique in terms of how spread out we are,” he said, adding: “We [the players] are from all over the globe.
“For us, it’s really to hone in on how we can approach this year sensibly with regards to player management.
“We can’t do certain things with the players overseas, that’s obvious.
“The way those [European domestic] seasons are structured are the way they are. We can’t have an influence, but I think when this shift happened with the South African franchises going into the Northern Hemisphere structure, we had to start looking at it a little bit differently.
“These guys [the player in camp in Cape Town] have been on a long stretch now.
“If you go back to last season, they finished their [United Rugby Championship] season, [then went] into [the Bok] camp and into the Rugby Championship.
“It does become pretty relentless.”
Edwards said the Bok job has come with challenges.
“There are lots and lots of positives in going north and playing in two different competitions – the URC and European Cup – but it creates a problem in terms of rest windows followed by the development windows.
“And I think that’s key to why we sit here today,” he said about the Cape Town camp – a three-week rest period, followed by three weeks of physical training and reconditioning.
“That rest and development that players would normally get off the back of a normal Northern Hemisphere cycle that happens in July and August, our guys [South African players] don’t get that because they’re competing in the Rugby Championship.
“So, essentially what we’ve done is taken that block and moved it to here [the current camp in February and March] and trying to not interrupt too much of the competitions the franchises are playing.
“Obviously, there are no Euro Cup games, as it falls in line with the Six Nations windows.
“As a backdrop, it’s a really interesting time and period that we’ve got to.
“I’m really glad that we’ve got to this point.
“The franchises themselves are buying in, as well as key stakeholders like MyPlayers.
“I think it’s an exciting thing to start this physical rugby and development camp going into a World Cup year.”
* Picture credit: @Springboks
The timeline for Bok squad announcement
First Bok steps in marathon to gold