Jacques Nienaber: I don’t think Boks needed to change tactics in final minutes against All Blacks
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Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was adamant that his team didn’t need to change their tactics to a ball-in-hand approach in the closing stages of Saturday’s 19-17 Rugby Championship defeat to the All Blacks in Townsville.
Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk stuck to the script of kicking up-and-unders even inside the New Zealand half throughout the match, and when Handre Pollard booted the Boks into the lead with a few minutes to go, the South Africans still managed to get their hands on the ball.
But De Klerk, reserve scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies and flyhalf Handre Pollard continued with the aerial assault when holding on to the ball would have been the better option to close out the game, and later to chase for the victory.
Even when Jordie Barrett slotted a late penalty to put the All Blacks into the lead, the South Africans kicked the ball away, and they missed out on what would’ve been a memorable win following the two disappointing defeats to the Wallabies.
Pollard’s kick downfield in the 77th minute, when the Boks had a scrum advantage close to the halfway line, was particularly crucial as it led to the penalty where Willie le Roux was caught in possession, and Barrett kicked the decisive three-pointer.
But asked in the post-match press conference if he considered changing tactics in the last few minutes, Nienaber responded with a curt “No… don’t think so”.
Jantjies opted for a box-kick inside the All Black half with 71 seconds left on the clock, which Jordie Barrett gathered superbly.
Nienaber was later quizzed on the box-kick ploy inside the opposition’s half again, and said: “It depends. One will have to look and see. People always like to say ‘Listen, attack space… that’s how you play rugby’. But if they have 14 in the front-line and only one at the back, there is unfortunately not a lot of space in the front-line.
“So, then I back the players to make the decision. Sometimes the space is in behind. If we can create a one-on-one with a passing game or a one-on-one in the air, you create the same thing – create a one-on-one.
“So, depending on where the space is, that’s where our players are told to attack. So, the moment we get a one-on-one – if it’s through the air, if it’s through running, if it’s through passing – we will attack that one-on-one space.”
Captain Siya Kolisi, who produced one of his best performances in a Bok jersey, also defended the decision to stick with the kicking strategy at the end. “I was on the field in the 77th minute, and the message – from the players, not from upstairs – was ‘stick to the game plan’, because that’s how we know how to play, and it’s always worked for us,” he said.
“We were never going to change anything, because that’s how we won the game ball back. So, I really like that because it’s been working the whole day, so why change at the end?”
Nienaber added that he had wanted to bring on Elton Jantjies in the last 10 minutes, but could not do so as Marco van Staden had sustained a blow to the shoulder. If the flank had to go off and Jantjies was on already, the Boks would’ve ended the match with 14 players.
The All Blacks were there for the taking, though, following an inspirational Bok effort in defence, while the forwards’ physicality was a sight to behold.
They lacked the finishing touch and variety on attack, but Nienaber still felt that the right strategy was followed.
“I thought the game plan worked. I thought we had opportunities, I thought they had opportunities. It probably came down to the wire – a call here, a bounce of the ball there… Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it goes against you,” he said.
“In the British and Irish Lions series, we won with a kick like this. Australia we lost, New Zealand we lost with a kick like this. So, I think it’s swings and roundabouts.
“I thought it was a proper Test match in terms of when number one and two play against each other. There are small margins, and we obviously have our DNA and they have their DNA.
“That’s the thing – rugby will be unbelievably boring if everybody plays the same tactics. So, we might not do the same tactics next week… like they might not do the same tactics (either). I thought it was a proper Test match.
“I think we always play gripping and physical. I can’t speak of the past, but since 2018, when I’ve been involved – Wellington 2018, two points for us. Pretoria, two points for them. Had a 16-all draw in 2019, then a 10-point victory in the World Cup. That’s the context: it’s that tight. I expected it from both sides.”