CAPE TOWN – One of the big worries in the Springboks’ game this season has been their defence.
So should defence coach Jacques Nienaber not be partly held accountable for the blunders?
When then-new Bok coach and SA Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus’ team went up against Eddie Jones’ England in June - particularly in the first two Tests - the Boks were exposed out wide and put under massive pressure with England’s pin-point kicking and passing - which they used almost too easily to target the hosts as the Boks struggled to get width on defence.
At that time, the Springboks had fielded two inexperienced, brand-new Test wingers in Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi, and following the defensive struggles, Erasmus said that they had been nervous and that things would improve the more they played.
Afterwards, Erasmus said that things got better once they got some width. And their inexperience affecting their defence is perhaps understandable. But by no means were they solely to blame. It wasn’t just on the wing where the Springboks were caught out.
You can ask whether the Boks, from midfield, drifted out quick enough. You can ask whether every player was certain of his role. And so you can go on and on. But you can’t just blame the wings.
Fast forward to the Rugby Championship, and the importance of fixing that inconsistent defensive work of less than two months ago would become an all-important focus - along with a number of other areas, like the breakdown.
And this time, it’s more than just their defence out wide that has become a problem.
In the hot mess that was the Springboks’ effort against Argentina in the return match in Mendoza, the defence was particularly bad.
There was always going to be pressure to keep the Pumas' dangerous outside backs in check. But it went way beyond that - the Boks' tackle stats were terrible, and the fact that they didn’t make that many tackles to start with made things even worse.
There was also clearly a lack of organisation, and any kind of defensive system looked non-existent.
Again, putting their patchy defensive display against England down to rookie individual errors could perhaps, to a certain extent, be seen as a valid excuse, but nothing can excuse what we saw in Argentina.
There was no one individual solely responsible on defence, it was a collective disaster, so shouldn’t that move the arrow of guilt in Nienaber’s direction?
Over the years, Nienaber has made a name for himself and has been given all sorts of tags like “defence guru” and “Rassie’s right-hand man”. And he has done well.
But we need to see that with the Boks now. Their defence needs to be fixed.
Otherwise the Boks will have much more to worry about then just stopping the All Blacks' big wingers out wide.