Coach Jacques Nienaber says the Springboks are capable of far better performances than what they produced last year when they beat the British & Irish Lions.
Nienaber was a guest on SuperSport’s First XV show, alongside former Springboks Joel Stransky, Odwa Ndungane and Gcobani Bobo.
During the talk, Nienaber was asked to give a review of the 2021 season which saw the Springboks claim a series victory over the British & Irish Lions, beat New Zealand in Australia and win against Wales and Scotland on the end-of-year tour.
However, those successes were mixed with a run of three successive losses, against Australia and the All Blacks, as well as a last-minute reverse at Twickenham against England to close off the season.
“We have just done a proper review of our 2021 season and I think, to be quite honest, I would probably give us a six out of 10,” Nienaber said. “There is lots of room for improvement.
“It’s not just in one area. We had a reality check of almost all our high-performance areas. I don’t want to go into too many specifics.
“This isn’t a 6/10 to get empathy from people. I honestly believe our squad is better and we are better than how we performed last year. Obviously, the challenge is now to try and fix it in 2022, to build on it.
“There were some good foundations that we laid in 2021. Thinking of where we came from, not playing any rugby in 2020. For us, it was about getting back on the horse, beating the British & Irish Lions while doing that, playing in the Rugby Championship and getting used to bubble life.
“This year will be a big year in the sense of building on what we started in 2021 with the end goal of 2023 in mind.”
SA Rugby this week confirmed that the Springboks will face Wales in a three-Test series in July, before welcoming the All Blacks and Argentina in the Rugby Championship in August and September.
“Our strategic goals will never change. It will still be that we want to perform and performance for a national team is winning. But with the same three legs: transforming, getting squad depth and growing the experience in the squad. Obviously we want to try and get a 10 out of 10, but we will look again at the end of this year and see where we are.”
Nienaber confirmed that the Springboks will be looking to grow their depth in certain areas, but also went into detail about the selection criteria.
“From a rugby perspective, it’s probably how someone plays. We literally look at every single action they do during a game. Every carry, every tackle, every cleanout, every contest in the air, every scrum, every lineout, every pass and kick, every catch. We go into detail. It literally takes us a week to go through the squad we are currently looking at.
“We look at their fundamentals. We don’t mix or meddle with their styles or strategies. Other than that, does he fit into what we deem to be a good Springbok? What the public sees on a Saturday is probably only the 12th thing that we look at in terms of team selection. That’s why we have the alignment camps. When we look at the mindset of a Springbok, we want to see a warrior, we want to see a disciplined player, a player who takes ownership.
“Does that player have an ego? That we see when we visit the teams and coaches, you speak to people who work with them. Is he a player that puts in the effort during the week? Does he do it with a good enjoyment? Or is he a player who has the enjoyment but lacks the effort?
“There are a lot of things that we look at, that we pick up from visiting the franchises. Sometimes we are allowed to be in the change room while they play their URC games so we can see how they handle their half-time talks. So there are a lot of ways we use to see if a player fits our structures or not.”
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