CAPE TOWN - Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has confirmed what many suspected and that is that the Boks were almost mentally out on their feet by the end of the Rugby Championship in Australia.
After a season like no other, it required a superhuman effort for Siya Kolisi’s men to almost beat the All Blacks in the Centenary Test and then get it right a week later in the 101st match between the bitter rivals.
Nienaber is in Paris where the Boks will train for a week before moving to Cardiff to play Wales on November 6.
“Mentally, it was very tough towards the end of the Rugby Championship,” Nienaber admitted.
“It is nobody’s fault how the rugby calendar unfolded this year.
“With a normal schedule, you would have two Tests and then a regeneration week or bye week, then maybe two more games, then more rest ...
“But we played Georgia, then had to pick our guys in the form of SA A to play the Lions because our second Test against Georgia was cancelled, then three very intense Lions Tests was followed immediately by two Tests against the Pumas, then we were in Australia where we quarantined for two weeks before playing two Tests in a row against the Wallabies, then straight into two matches against the All Blacks.
“After the year that we had, to play Australia and New Zealand twice each in one month was very tough but it was nobody’s fault — it is just how the cards landed in the time of Covid,” Nienaber stressed.
“It is not normally this way and from a player welfare point of view, it was unfortunate.
“It was psychologically difficult — we had no clue how tough it would be for that extended period of time in a bio bubble — but what does not kill you makes you stronger.
“We had to dig deep, but I had no doubt that we would rally.
“After we did not win the first Test against New Zealand I was not disappointed in the players but in myself because I maybe made some stupid substitutions.
“I thought I squandered that Test match after we were in a good position to win it, but we got a second chance against the All Blacks and we took it.
“We had a good break and it was actually nice to get on a plane and go north for more rugby,” he added.
Vice-captain Lukhanyo Am said the squad is in a “good place”.
“Coming to France has been easier than going to Australia because we are all vaccinated and we went straight through and we don’t have to do quarantine,” he said.
“The break was very good for us — seeing loved ones and being able to do whatever you want was a great tonic — but it was also nice to see all the guys again and we are excited to finish the year on a high,” Am added.
“As a group, we are in a good space after finishing the way we did against the All Blacks, that gave us a huge shot of confidence and we will definitely keep to our strengths and try and close this year out positively.”