On a brisk evening at Eden Park on August 7th, Jacques Nienaber watched the Wallabies put over four tries against the All Blacks.
He must have given some thought to Dave Rennie, the Wallabies coach, and how expansive their game had been. Yes, the Australians lost that evening, but it had been a good performance for the men from down under.
By the time the All Blacks had wrapped up the Bledisloe Cup in Perth on September 5th, Nienaber had over a month to prepare his side for the Wallabies. Sure, he had the Pumas to contend with in the interim, but if you’re going to accept the head coaching position of an iconic international rugby side in the modern era then you’d better prepare your squad to be all-rounders. Simply put, adapt or die, and the current Springbok side is dying.
Steve Hansen, former All Blacks head coach, put it bluntly when he said, “if you can’t change the man, change the man.”
Much has been written about the Springboks’ style of play; that it’s overwhelmingly forward-dominated with significant kicking. That’s not the problem if your opposition is unable to counter-attack and rapidly and successfully move the ball the width of the field off set-pieces – aka the British and Irish Lions and the Pumas. Nienaber’s problem is simply diagnosed: he believes the Springboks don’t need to adapt their style of play based upon specific competitors’ style of play.
For this reason, Nienaber was outcoached by Rennie last evening. His failure to adapt his game plan was compounded by his squad’s poor defensive effort and most importantly, by a seriously weak bench. Cultivating a new generation of top players has always been South African rugby’s Achilles heel and was most evident noticeable during key weeks of this series with the absence of Cheslin Kolbe, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager. And now, like an incoming tide, the All Blacks are gathering strength from each Test during this Rugby Championship.
Nienaber can only hope his squad will find that elusive fifth gear and meet the All Blacks wave head-on.