Springboks want to avoid another Rugby World Cup false start

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Published Sep 5, 2023


Far from hitting the ground running, in the opening round of the last two Rugby World Cup tournaments, the Springboks hit it with a resounding splat – but they know that if they make it three in a row, it will be much harder to recover this time.

In 2015 and 2019, Japan was the common denominator.

The Brave Blossoms shocked the Springboks in Brighton, and four years later, it was in Japan that the Boks perished to the All Blacks before recovering sensationally to go all the way.

The tournament is unlikely to be as forgiving this time should the Springboks lose to Scotland on Sunday (5.45pm kickoff), because this World Cup is the most competitive in history.

On arrival in France, Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber wore his philosophical cap.

“Listen, the Scotland game is the most important game for us in the World Cup. It is the biggest game for us because we are in a tough pool, and it is what it is, and that’s why it’s so important,” he said.

Nienaber added that the Boks’ history of opening-round losses is irrelevant to the current team.

“History doesn’t have any influence on who is going to win the World Cup. That’s what we believe,” Nienaber said.

“We must focus on the reality, and the reality is how we start our week on Tuesday and how much effort we put in.

“Winning your first Test match in a World Cup doesn’t necessarily mean that you will end up winning or losing the World Cup. It’s just history.

“It’s nice for the pundits and it builds up the game, but does it have an influence on if you’re going to win the World Cup or not? No.

“But it obviously will take off a little bit of pressure if you win the first game — and if we lose the first game, there will be more pressure to get out of the pool.”

The Springboks arrive in France as favourites in many quarters to go all the way, but Nienaber is not interested in that tag or any other.

“For us, to be called favourite or non-favourite — it doesn’t influence Sunday’s game. We can’t control who is the favourites,” Nienaber said.

“The reality is that doesn’t have any bearing on us, nor will it influence Scotland or France for that matter. What counts is what you as a team believe within your group.”

Nienaber said the real importance is how well you have prepared.

“How much effort did you put in? How hard did you train? Did you make sure you ticked all the boxes in getting yourself prepared for the Test match against Scotland? That is the reality,” Nienaber said.

“If you are the favourite or not the favourite, or underdog or not the underdog, it’s not going to make Scotland perform better or worse, or us better or worse.”

Nienaber admitted that one of the boxes he has to tick is getting his selection right.

“As we said from the outset when we started in 2022, it’s going to be a squad performance if we are going to defend the World Cup,” Nienaber said.

“We will need a squad with good depth, and I think that’s exactly what we have. We’ve got a squad with good depth, and there’s good competition within the group.

“There will be some big calls to be made from a selection point of view, but we’ve got a pretty good idea in our heads what we think we are going to go with.

“There’s another two days to discuss that within the coaches’ group, the management group and the selectors, and it is vital we get it right.”

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