Durban — The usually patient Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was a touch exasperated when asked to comment on what has become the theme of the week — the “desperation” of the All Blacks ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener at Mbombela Stadium.
Indeed, the frantic All Blacks and how the Boks will deal with them has been the overriding discussion before Saturday’s match and Nienaber says the mental state of the Kiwis has nothing to do with the Springboks.
“We can only live in our reality because that is all we can control. It is useless for us to spend energy thinking about how the All Blacks are feeling and what they could change — we have no control over that and the moment you start spending energy on that stuff you are wasting it,” Nienaber said at his team announcement in Nelspruit.
“We can only control what we can control, and we must make sure they are not more desperate on the day — that we can control.“But we can’t control how they tackle the game, what they want to do about our maul and our style of play. We must stay in reality — that we can control, and as for desperation ... these two teams are always in that state when they play each other. It goes with the territory, it is automatic because both sides value these games as extremely special.”
Moving on to the matters Nienaber certainly can control, he explained the three changes he has made to his team that started in the third Test against Wales.
The selection of Kurt-Lee Arendse on the right wing for the injured Cheslin Kolbe was a fairly easy one for him.
“Kurt-Lee played really well in that second Test in Bloemfontein and we feel we are replacing like with like because he has many similarities to Cheslin,” Nienaber said. “They come from the same Sevens background and thus are both devastating on attack and tenacious on defence.
“Faf (de Klerk) was always going to be suited for this massive game against the All Blacks,” Nienaber said of De Klerk returning at scrumhalf for Jaden Hendrikse. “We have won some very big games with Faf in the past, be it a World Cup or the British & Irish Lions. He is the man for the inevitable high-pressure situations in this game. We need him and his skill set for this particular game.”
Malcolm Marx gets to celebrate his 50th cap with a rare start ahead of Bongi Mbonambi, and Nienaber said it was only fitting that he gives this “warrior” a promotion.
“When a player reaches a milestone we like to make it special for them if it is possible and it fits the team dynamic, and obviously there is no problem here,” Nienaber said. “Malcolm is a true warrior, and he epitomises what we stand for as the Springboks.”
Nienaber was asked about the success of the Blitzboks and he admitted the pressure is on the Boks to continue the good feeling that rugby in South Africa is enjoying.
“I said to Rassie (Erasmus) this morning that South Africa’s rugby department is smiling — besides the Blitzboks winning the Commonwealth Game gold, our women have just won their first match abroad and that was against a very good Japan team that had won 10 games on the trot. And the Junior Boks won their European competition too, so there is some nice pressure on us.”
Springbok Starting XV: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Willie le Roux