With victory a long shot and the form of key players in doubt, the merits of resisting tactical changes to the Springbok lineup for the Rugby Championship rematch against the All Blacks in Gold Coast are dubious, writes ZELIM NEL.
Coach Jacques Nienaber made just two injury-enforced changes to the match-day squad – prop Ox Nche earns a start and fit-again Jasper Wiese takes a seat on the bench in place of Frans Malherbe and Marco van Staden, respectively.
Sports analytics research wholeheartedly supports placing a premium on continuity and, with the world champions staring down the barrel of a fourth loss on the trot, Nienaber’s call will be validated if South Africa wins.
Unfortunately, the archives show the Boks have less than a 20% chance of beating New Zealand this week, and even more recent history suggests a victory will be hard to come by.
The All Blacks have already clinched the Rugby Championship, and given the likelihood of a fourth successive defeat, what will South Africa gain from sticking with the same lineup?
Would the Boks not have reaped greater long-term benefits by investing this match in depth? The argument often used against fielding young players is their lack of experience – wouldn’t a start in an overseas Test against the top-ranked All Blacks fast-track the growth of such players?
The Bok tactical trio of Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard and Willie le Roux have struggled for form this season and this may be down to a lack of competition for places. Perhaps this Test would have more long-term value to the world champs if Nienaber gave the next man up an opportunity to stake a claim to the No 9, 10 or 15 jerseys?
If Wiese, and not Kwagga Smith, has been earmarked as Duane Vermeulen’s understudy, why not start him at No 8 this week with the veteran in support at blindside flank?
If Aphelele Fassi is the future at fullback, shouldn’t he have at least been given a start in the back three?
Or, maybe it would have made more sense to start Damian Willemse outside Pollard, with 29-year-old Damian de Allende on the bench rather than Frans Steyn (34).
If the Boks lose on Saturday, winning the three Tests on the end-of-year tour will become more imperative and that means even fewer opportunities to blood youngsters and create depth.
Where do you stand in the debate – has Nienaber got it right or should there have been changes?