Jacques Nienaber hopes the Springboks can ‘evolve’
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Cape Town - The Springboks left South Africa yesterday for the end-of-year tour to Europe with one clear mission – to be unbeaten for the first time in years.
But can they do it? The last time they won all their Tests at the end of their season was in 2013.
Heyneke Meyer’s side had just missed out on winning the Rugby Championship following that thriller against the All Blacks in Johannesburg, and were high on confidence going to Europe.
They beat Wales 24-15 in Cardiff, Scotland 28-0 in Edinburgh and ground out a hard-fought 19-10 victory over France in Paris.
That team achieved a hat-trick the year before as well – Ireland 16-12, Scotland 21-10 and England 16-15.
Since 2013, it’s been a hard slog. Three tours ended with two wins and two defeats from four matches, including the last trip in 2018, while the miserable 2016 journey was three losses out of three – which saw Italy win 20-18 in Florence as well.
Ireland and Wales have often scuppered the Boks’ chances of enjoying an unbeaten tour, but things appear to be slightly different this time around.
Firstly, the South Africans will have all their overseas-based players available for the three-match series against Wales, Scotland and England, as each match will be played inside the international window, which hasn’t always been the case in the past, especially in that last week against Wales.
Another difference ahead of the opening game against Wales in Cardiff on November 6 is that it’s a settled Bok squad, with players who have been part of the squad all season – except for new lock Salmaan Moerat, who returns from a neck injury that prevented him from making his Test debut earlier this year.
So, there aren’t many rookies that need to be blooded.
Nienaber said ahead of the team’s departure for France – where the Boks will spend the next week or so training and participating in a few promotional events for the 2023 Rugby World Cup that will be held in that country – that it is “definitely” a goal for the team to remain unbeaten in November.
“I think it’s going to be a big challenge on this tour, especially when you look at the squads that the (other teams) coaches have selected. We haven’t won all three in almost a decade, so it is a big challenge for us We are 20 Test matches out from the 2023 World Cup, so I think it’s almost similar to when myself and Rassie came back (in 2018) – maybe a little bit earlier (now),” he said.
“The big thing for us is just to build continuity, consistency, and improve our game. We lost a lot of building (time) in 2020, not participating in any international rugby.
“So, it’s almost to build on our game, getting better at what we are trying to do, seeing where there are opportunities for us to evolve – in terms of a squad and how we play the game. It’s a good opportunity for us to get used to conditions we might face in 2023.”
Of course, the three UK teams will also be out for revenge after the British and Irish Lions lost their series 2-1 in South Africa a few months ago.
Many of those players will take on the Boks again, including veteran Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones, and Nienaber feels that their opponents will field more experienced backlines as well.
In contrast, the Boks will be missing star wing Cheslin Kolbe and firstchoice scrumhalf Faf de Klerk due to injuries, in addition to forwards such
as RG Snyman, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Frans Malherbe.
“I think there will be a little bit of spice, trying to maybe rectify what happened in the British and Irish Lions series. But although there will be some spice from that series, it’s one thing we have to get used to as a Springbok side – we are the reigning world champions and are currently ranked No 1 in the world, so teams will come for us regardless (of the past),” the Bok coach said.