Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and burly Duane Vermeulen believe that the Springboks have the working foundation, and the gameplan encoded within their DNA, their soul, to rectify their errors, defensive woes and discipline issues when the world champions meet the mighty All Blacks this weekend in the Rugby Championship.
And why not?
The Boks have found themselves in this position before, one where questions and criticisms have hung above them like a blunt guillotine that has failed to make a clean chop on the initial drop. In 2019, after their opening loss to New Zealand in the World Cup, the axe of vitriol was firmly in hand, ready to eviscerate their efforts going forward. That critique reared its head against after the first Test earlier this year against the British & Irish Lions.
In both instances, the Boks regrouped, worked towards triumph and claimed glory. Saturday’s Centenary Test against the All Blacks will be the most difficult instance in terms of a turnaround. Yesterday, at the team announcement, both coach and player insisted it can be done if the team sticks to their guns and work together.
“We had a good look at how we played against Australia,” said Nienaber. “We were brutally honest and I thought there were some things that were good.
“Our line-out mauling work was good, our scrums were good, we were good under the high ball. We will have a session tomorrow where we will probably touch on the defensive side of things.
“There were one or two errors that we made and one or two things we will rectify. Then, we will probably revisit what our soul is, what we enjoy doing and probably going back to that.
“The errors that we made,” Nienaber continued, “were errors that we normally don’t make ...
The key thing for us is to just stay focused. We know we will have to be at our best and we certainly are training hard and the work we have put in these last few days has been excellent. We are aligned as a team and in terms of our strategy.”
It was an attitude reflected by “Thor“.
“What happened in the past, stays in the past and you can only talk about the now,” said Vermeulen.
“Like Jacques said, we reviewed our game. New Zealand is a whole new game, it is a whole different team, they play a whole different style. We have to approach it differently. We have got our backs against the wall, but hopefully we can work harder as a team and get the result we want.”
Nienaber, meanwhile, revealed two changes to the starting XV. Kwagga Smith will start in the No 7 jumper; replacing Franco Mostert, who moves to the bench. In the second-row Lood de Jager makes a return after a short injury lay-off, replacing Marvin Orie, and will pack down alongside Eben Etzebeth.
The Smith selection at blindsideflank is perhaps again the most startling selection. Nienaber justified the pick, however, revealing that Mostert required a breather after playing in every match so far in the Championship.
Said Nienaber: “Kwagga brought nice energy when he came on last weekend against Australia. Kwagga is a versatile guy, a guy that we trust. Obviously, we can bring Sous (Mostert) in at lock or blindside, wherever we feel we need an injection.”
Jasper Wiese was not eligible for selection due to being cited by Sanzaar’s disciplinary committee for foul play. Cheslin Kolbe also did not make the teamsheet as he continues his recovery from injury. Nienaber has also gone for a more conventional 5-3 split on the bench, introducing Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn as replacements, alongside Herscel Jantjies.
Springboks starting XV: 15 Willie le Roux; 14 Sbu Nkosi; 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende; 11 Makazole Mapimpi; 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk; 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt); 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth; 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane;
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Marco van Staden; 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn