Johannesburg – Springbok arrogance cost them a rare opportunity to put away a vulnerable All Blacks team at Ellis Park on Saturday and while South Africa is now questioning why Jacques Nienaber fiddled with the team that was so good in Nelspruit, the coach is instead blaming a lack of accuracy in execution.
Well, the lack of accuracy was actually in the selection where unneeded changes were made at hooker and No 8, and with required changes because of injury at wing and scrumhalf, Nienaber should have kept to the team that won so well at the Mbombela Stadium.
The choice of hooker borders on the bizarre. We saw in Bloemfontein in the Wales match that Joseph Dweba is inaccurate with this lineout delivery, and we saw it again at Ellis Park last night, so why was he picked when Malcolm Marx is playing fantastic rugby and never misses his jumpers?
This argument about Marx being a vital part of the bomb squad is rubbish. If your best players are starting and you are enjoying the momentum in the game, then you don’t need a bomb squad.
And poor old Duane Vermeulen was sadly off the pace and reminded me of when Heyneke Meyer embarrassed Juan Smith by recalling him to the Boks for a match against Argentina in 2014, after a four-year absence.
Anyway, Nienaber instead questioned the players that were on the field at Ellis Park for the 35-23 defeat.
“We weren’t as accurate as we were last week and they kept offloading, taking high risks which we didn’t contain that well,” he said.
“I thought we did well to come back — 15-0 down against the All Blacks is a tough ask to get back into the game, which we managed to do in the back end of the first half and up to 73 minutes. And then we slipped at the back end.
“We were over the tryline three times but we got zero points for that and rightly so,” Nienaber continued. “There were nice opportunities but sometimes it goes against you. The six-two bench split sometimes works for you and sometimes against you.
“I think since we have been back, we have coached 45 games and we’ve probably gone with a six-two split more than 30 times and it did bring us some positive results with a Cup win and series victory over the British & Irish Lions, but in saying that we know it is a risk if you get a backline injury and it’s just unfortunate.”
The Boks have a week off now to lick their considerable wounds and then travel to Australia for back-to-back Tests against the Wallabies.
The Boks are almost always poor away to Australia, where they just can’t switch on mentally, and now the task is even harder without winning momentum, as captain Siya Kolisi admitted.
“We would have loved to gain momentum with a win, but we can’t let our heads drop for long,” he said.
“There are still four more games to go (in the Rugby Championship) but we have missed an opportunity. New Zealand played really well today — they controlled the game better than us.
“We fought back well in the second half but we slipped up in one moment; we fell asleep and that’s what the All Blacks can do to you when that happens.”
Asleep! That is what the Springboks were from the final whistle at Mbombela to the first blast at Ellis Park. Asleep in their selections and yes, Mr Nienaber, in their execution, too, especially up front where the All Blacks forwards more than stood up to their too complacent counterparts.
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