Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber has fired back at criticism of his team’s style of play, saying rugby would be boring if every team played the same way. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Springboks followed their 2019 Rugby Championship and World Cup triumphs by claiming a thrilling 2-1 series win over the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town.
However, plenty of media coverage out of the UK and New Zealand has been less than complimentary about how the Springboks have gone about winning their titles, criticising the team’s kick-oriented, forwards-based approach.
Last week, New Zealand head coach Ian Foster spoke to reporters the day after South Africa won the second Test to level the three-Test series with the Lions, and said the match “put me to sleep”.
This week, New Zealand-based writer Mark Reason wrote in a column the “Bore Boks” are “killing the game” and it was up to the All Blacks to save Test rugby during the 2021 Rugby Championship.
When asked about the criticism ahead of the Springboks’ tournament opener against Argentina, Nienaber said that the different playing styles are what gives rugby its character.
“That’s the beauty of rugby. There are different styles. It would be unbelievably boring if everybody played the same,” Nienaber said. “Different styles means different tactics.
“If you take that  World Cup, for instance. We played the most attacking-branded team in the quarter-final [Japan] and then we had to change our whole mentality for a team that played a massive kicking game [Wales in the semi-final]. You had to try and outsmart them and outmaneuver them and players had to give their input. Then you had England [in the final], who had a very balanced approach.
“I don’t think there is one specific style. Your playing style is determined by the athletic attributes of the players. New Zealand, for example, has specific athletic attributes in their players and they will create a gameplan to amplify those special characteristics. We will have a different style because we will look to amplify our athletic abilities. Japan will have different athletic abilities.
“So, playing styles differ because athletes differ. The athletes that make up the Japan side and the athletes that make up our side, or Australia, New Zealand or Argentina, are all different.”
There has also been plenty of criticism of how the Lions series played out, especially around how long officials took to make decisions and the amount of kicking between the two teams.
However, Nienaber said the tight nature of the series was what made it thrilling.
“It was tight. I am very grateful for the series victory because it is such a special thing that only comes once every 12 years. But it was unbelievably tight and could have gone both ways. Credit to both teams, I thought it was a grind. That’s what you want from the second-biggest, after a World Cup, series you will play.
“It was a humdinger. In my opinion, rugby was the victor there, it was that close. Three points separated us at the end.”
Photo: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings