Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has confirmed that an injury worry late in the game prevented the planned introduction of Elton Jantjies around the 70-minute mark against New Zealand.
Over the course of this season, the Springboks have predominantly opted for a six-two forwards-to-backs split on the bench without a specialist flyhalf on the bench.
However, the impact of the Bomb Squad hasn’t always been quite as explosive as expected and, for Saturday’s 100th Test against the All Blacks, the Springboks altered their bench configuration.
Frans Steyn and Elton Jantjies had been introduced to offer some more experience and options to the Bok bench, but ultimately the latter ending up being an unused substitute.
It would have come as a surprise to the casual onlooker, particularly considering that Handre Pollard still looked to be lacking his usual authority and confidence, while Jantjies is the sort of player who would have brought a different energy.
However, Nienaber explained afterwards that there were reasons for this.
“I wanted to put Elton on at 70 minutes, but the medical team reported that Marco van Staden had a shoulder complaint, and that meant Elton was the last guy on the bench.
“That made it a tough call, but we didn’t want to be left a man down if Marco had to come off, and we were leading at the time.”
Speaking specifically about the narrow defeat, Nienaber was asked repeatedly about the Boks’ struggles to turn pressure into more of a points buffer, but he reiterated there was more to it than that.
“One has to have a look and see, but we always want to attack space, and I back the players to make good decisions. If we can create a one on one with a passing game or through the kick, then it’s basically the same thing. So, we do try to identify where that space may be, and look to create those one-on-one situations.
“At the end of the day, I thought it was a proper Test match and, as expected when one plays two, there are always going to be very small margins. We have our DNA, and they have theirs.”
Despite the recent back-to-back defeats by Australia, Nienaber said the Springboks came into this game with full belief in their ability to achieve victory.
“Not one person or player did not believe we could beat the All Blacks. Not a speck of doubt was in our minds. We knew it would be a grind, and it would always come down to a narrow margin in the end result, that’s how it has been since 2018 between these two teams.”
However, Nienaber agreed that the Boks would need to look at their discipline after conceding 16 penalties and another yellow card.
“We are conceding too many offsides penalties, and our discipline has to be looked at. But overall I think there was a big step up in this game, and we were a lot more on song in terms of our preparation.”
Kolisi added: “Today was all about doing what we know, and doing it properly. It was really intense and heated, a real proper game of rugby with speed and intensity. I can’t say where it went wrong, but I thought our plan was the correct one.”