Nienaber: Bok door isn’t shut for in-form rookies

Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber has explained why in-form youngsters from South Africa’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship teams missed out on selection for the November tour squad.

On Tuesday, the Springboks confirmed the 32-man squad to be touring the United Kingdom in November, for Tests against Wales, Scotland and England.

While the Vodacom Bulls, Stormers, Lions and Sharks have struggled in the first four rounds of the URC, there were expectations that the likes of Phepsi Buthelezi, Evan Roos, Warrick Gelant, Elrigh Louw and Ruan Nortje could be in line for a call-up.

Gelant is the only one of those who has been capped, with the Stormers fullback making an excellent return from a long-term knee injury.

However, Stormers lock and co-captain Salmaan Moerat turned out to be the only newcomer in the squad, with Sharks scrumhalf Grant Williams the only other uncapped player.

Explaining the omissions, Nienaber said that it is up to those players to show a level of consistency that will lift their respective teams up the URC table.

“Those players probably fall in the category of fringe national players, where they are delivering proper performances at franchise level. If you look at it, there were probably one or two good performances from a teams’ perspective and I agree guys like Evan have put in some proper individual performances,” said Nienaber.

“But the key is now to put in consistent performances and kick on in teams that are performing consistently, not only at an individual level. It’s almost a case of the team having to be lifted by the showings of those players.

“By doing that, you encourage a player to take ownership of different things, like his department [spearheading the lineouts or taking the lead at ruck time] or showing general leadership. The players know exactly what we’re talking about,” Nienaber added.

“Evan is playing brilliant rugby, but what about Jasper Wiese? He’s only played 10 Tests and will possibly add another three more. He’s still very much a rookie. He’s in this position [having a Springbok spot] because he kept knocking and knocking on the door.

“Even when he came in, he was probably No 4 in the pecking order. Then Duane got injured, Dan [du Preez] got Covid and Jean-Luc [du Preez] became injured. He persisted and got his chance.

“There’s no door standing in anyone’s face, we’re still watching everyone  and keeping tabs on their performances.”

Nienaber went on to point out that the Boks have managed to expand their depth in a difficult year during which the team faced the British & Irish Lions and played most of their Rugby Championship fixtures in Australia.

“I think we’ve been building a squad since 2018 and it was well documented that Rassie has a six-year contract up till 2023, so that’s what the premium is on,” Nienaber said.

“Also, if you look at the squad, we have youngsters coming in at every tier – like Ox Nche or Joseph Dweba or Salmaan and Jasper Wiese. We’re continuously introducing younger players.

“It’s probably just at flyhalf where we didn’t do that. Even in the back three, we have a newbie in Aphelele Fassi.

“We have our eye on consistency and experience because that’s what we’ll need at a World Cup. We’re fortunate in that most of our squad is experienced, but still quite young. The average age is 28, you don’t always achieve that.”

Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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