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Springboks need to use Wales tour to generate momentum for Rugby Championship

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber can use the series against Wales to preare the team for what will be a busy international schedule. Photo: Kieran McManus/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber can use the series against Wales to preare the team for what will be a busy international schedule. Photo: Kieran McManus/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Published Apr 17, 2022


Durban - After the absolute chaos of the 2021 rugby season in South Africa, the normalcy of a three-Test series against Wales in July must seem heavenly for Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, and he and Rassie Erasmus know that they simply have to cash in on this opportunity to lay the foundations for the long road to the World Cup.

It was just over a year ago that the British and Irish Lions bravely came to this county for the most bizarre of tours. The Boks could hardly have had a more troubled build-up to that series and it remains nothing short of a miracle that they won it against opponents who had been playing Test rugby in Europe, while the Boks had not played a match since the World Cup final in 2019.

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Okay, that is not quite true — they had a warm-up match against Georgia but the second Test match against them was called off because of an outbreak of Covid in both camps, with the Georgian coach coming dangerously close to perishing in a Johannesburg hospital.

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The almost hopelessly unprepared Springboks had to resort to hijacking the South Africa A game against the Lions to gain game time for players.

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Given that nightmare situation for the Boks bosses, they had no choice but to stick to exactly what had worked for them at the World Cup. They did not deviate one iota in terms of playing personnel and game plan because the opportunity to evolve would have been in the 2020 season but that was completely written off for the Boks.

All things considered, they did well to beat the Lions, the All Blacks and on the end-of-year tour, they ended their long-running drought against Wales in Cardiff.

Now Wales will be visiting South Africa and Nienaber has three home matches against them to hit the ground running. Wales had a poor Six Nations and while they will never be a pushover at international level, their four teams in the United Rugby Championship have just been smashed in South Africa by the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers, and that is not going to inspire confidence in the players who will be returning in the red jersey of Wales.

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Nienaber must use this opportunity to generate momentum and confidence because next up are the All Blacks, who come here for two Rugby Championship matches in the first two weeks of August. This mini-series will be played on the highveld — at Nelspruit and Ellis Park — and it presents the Boks with an excellent opportunity to beat their arch-rivals.

If the Boks can get their house in order in those five home matches, they will be in a strong position for their extremely challenging November tour — they play bitter rivals England and then red-hot Ireland followed by Six Nations champions France. This game in Paris, the venue of the World Cup, will give the Boks a perfect measure of where they are ahead of their return to France for the defence of their crown.

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It all starts, though, with the home series against Wales in July. The last thing the Boks need is to get into a series dogfight with the tourists. If they can win the first two well, they can rotate for the third Test and grow squad match readiness for the All Blacks.

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But Wales will not roll over and Nienaber told media last Sunday that their coaching staff has been in South Africa doing their homework.

Wayne Pivac (Wales head coach) and some of his management were here for a visit a couple of days ago,” Nienaber said. We had dinner and he made no secret of the fact that they haven’t won a series in South Africa yet and that it is one of the big goals they have set for themselves.

On our UK tour last year, it was the first time in eight years that we beat them at home and we only took control in the last 10 minutes.

“History has shown us that it is going to be an arm wrestle,” Nienaber continued. To zone into two of Wales’ Six Nations games – they were 0-12 down against England at Twickenham and they went on to score three tries in the last 20 minutes.

“Wales are one of those teams that don’t go away and keep putting you under pressure. Against France, who won the Grand Slam and who are one of the in-form teams in the world, they were 9-10 behind at half-time, and France went on to win 13-9.

To me, that amplifies the spirit of the Welsh team. They are a tough team and it will be a grind.

We must make sure that we get our ducks in a row for them.”