World Cup winning coach Jake White believes current Springbok boss Jacques Nienaber has missed a trick not picking his strongest side for their series with Wales.
Nienaber’s charges were on the wrong end of history in the second test as they became the first Springbok side to lose to Wales in the republic.
The World Champions have looked sluggish throughout the first two tests. No doubt this rust was understandable for the first test, however in test two rather than gathering momentum Nienaber made wholesale changes.
A move that came back to bite him and put his side under immense pressure heading into Saturday’s crunch fixture in Cape Town.
Writing in his column for Rugbypass, the Bulls head coach said was rather scathing of the current Bok head coach.
“The job of a national coach is to win Test matches. National coaches shouldn’t use Tests to see if players are good enough, that what A-sides or training is for. I don’t know if Nienaber picked that team on his own, he may have discussed it with Rassie and others but you’re not a national coach to learn lessons,” White said.
Having picked up a significant comeback win in the first test; the Springboks were lauded for their strength in depth.
Thus, the week leading up to the test say South African media and supporters alike applauding Nienaber and his charges for making the changes.
White however was unconvinced, “In my experience, the most successful Springbok coaches keep the best teams together. Nick Mallett, myself or Rassie Erasmus in 2019. It’s always been that way.”
It was not just former Bok coaches who were disappoint in the widespread changes as even the great Sir Gareth Edwards was left incensed.
“If there had been five or six changes, you would maybe have raised an eyebrow. But 14 changes? It’s overwhelming,”
“I don’t think it shows respect for Wales and, looking logically, there is only one way to view it and that’s to give them a good tonking, as they say.”
Publicly the Welsh team have stated that the changes played no role in their intensity. However, having come so close in the first test perhaps the changes added a little bit more impetuous to their historic performance.
White however was in agreement with Edwards assessment of the feeling within the Welsh camp.
“Going back to selection, when Sir Gareth Edwards, one of the greatest players of all time, said it was a slap in the face, I can’t believe it wasn’t a real motivation for the Welsh team.”
Shifting towards the upcoming series decider, White fears that a series loss is a very real possibility as Nienaber’s changes have offered the visitors real confidence.
“Wales will come brimming with confidence. I’ve coached against them, and the one thing they don’t do is go away.”
Nienaber has undoubtedly selected a team that he believes is the strongest available to tie up the series. The concern for the Boks however is now perhaps that they have reverted to type by selecting a physical side with a vision to physically dominate the Welsh.
The primary issue however has been that the visitors have not only negated this threat so far in the series but in fact got on top in several of the physical exchanges.
“For Saturday’s Test, I see Nienaber has gone back to the team he thinks will serve him well. Six forwards on the bench, two backs. The biggest, heaviest side he can muster.”
Lacking vision and the ability to evolve their game plan is not only concerning for this weekend but also for the World Cup next year as White notes.
“Ahead of France, I don’t think there will be too much of a departure from what’s been working for them in the past few years. In fact, I think it’s obvious they are going do to exactly the same thing they did in Japan, but one of the things I’ve learnt as I’ve got older is that if you try to repeat the same feat again and again, it doesn’t work.”
It has been fifteen years since White’s Springboks won the 2007 World Cup in France. In the interim the Boks have had several ups and downs.
In that time there has been five Springbok coaches, Pieter De Villiers, Heyneke Meyer, Allister Coetzee, Rassie Erasmus and now Nienaber.
All five men are very different characters, the one common thread however is that when the pressure came on their sides reverted to type.
Physical, defensive and opportunistic not bad traits to have if you have the players to do so. The issue however is that when a side can go toe-to-toe with the Boks and plan A is not effective, there is no plan B.
2019 showed that when on song the Springboks plan A is good enough to win a World Cup. The game however has progressed since that point and interestingly it is a potential pool rival that worries White the most.
“When they’re on song, it doesn’t matter who you are, Ireland will open you up. That first try Andrew Porter scored at the beginning of the game is one of the best Test tries you’ll see as a collective.”
White is correct in his assessment, the concern the Springboks will be if their giant pack is being continually moved around the park can they keep up?
“The way they set that thing up and everyone touched the ball was incredible. It’s not so much what the All Blacks got wrong but about how good Ireland were and how comfortable they are with each other.”
Whilst many may read these statements as White take shots at the Springbok set-up it could not be further from the truth.
White is a winner; he has been successful at every stop he has made in his career. Ironically the 2007 side played in a similar vein to this current crop of players. The key difference however was that wh the 2007 backline which was spearhead by names such as Bryan Habana, Fourie Du Preez and Jacques Fouries regularly ripped sides to pieces.
This current side has that potential too with Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi being truly world class operators.
The issue however it would appear is the reluctance to shift the ball beyond the number twelve channel with any real frequency.
The series victory on Saturday is a non-negotiable for Nienaber and his charges. A loss would automatically set off alarm bells in the republic.
So much has been made of the pressure on the All Blacks coaching ticket, Nienaber however with little experience away from Rassie Erasmus will be feeling his job is on the line on Saturday.
‘You learn that at age-grade or club level – I mean that sincerely – there’s a reason people go through a system to become national coach.’
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 14, 2022