Nienaber: Boks not thinking about quarter-finals now

Bok coach Jacques Nienaber says the Springboks are focused on getting back into Test rugby after being drawn in a difficult pool for the 2023 World Cup.

The Springboks were placed alongside Ireland and Scotland, Asia/Pacific 1 and Europe 2 in Pool B for the next World Cup in 2023 in France.

This came after France and New Zealand were drawn together in Pool A, which would mean a tough quarter-final if the Springboks are able to progress from their pool.

Speaking in an online media conference after the draw, Bok coach Nienaber said his team would have to first concern themselves with getting into the World Cup playoffs, before worrying about their opponents in a potential quarter-final.

‘I think if you look at our pool and quality there, the Asia/Pacific one could be Tonga or Samoa, I think it probably wouldn’t be right to think about the quarter-finals and knockout rugby,’ Nienaber said. ‘You will need to be on top of your game just to get out of the pool. So, from our position, we will just focus on building a proper squad with good experience to get out that pool. We will take the pool stages as it is.

‘I must say we are quite excited, if you look at the pool I think we’ll need to be on top of our game just to get out of it. There are no two ways about it. It’s funny to think that one of either South Africa, Ireland or Scotland may not make it to the playoffs. So, it’s going to be a tough pool, but we are very much looking forward to it.’

The Springboks have had to contend with a year without Test rugby after the decision was made to withdraw the team from the Australia-hosted Rugby Championship.

However, local rugby has returned to South Africa in the form of the recently concluded Super Rugby Unlocked, which has led into the currently on-the-go Currie Cup.

Nienaber defended the decision to pull the Boks out of Test rugby in 2020, but added that there will be plenty to look forward to in 2021, especially with the upcoming British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

‘The big thing for us is to take baby steps. We need to get international rugby back. Our local game is under way, we are currently in round nine [overall], so we have got rugby back here in South Africa. The next focus will be to get back into Test rugby.

‘I believe it was the right decision for us,’ Nienaber added. ‘There were different lockdowns for different countries. We were in an extreme lockdown here, so it was the right call for player safety. But we will need to be creative to prepare for international rugby next year. The guys are working hard behind the scenes towards that. We are super excited for 2021. We have the British & Irish Lions coming to us.  It’s about getting us back into international rugby and then preparing for the Lions and we will take it from there.’

Nienaber was also asked about the potential of the South African franchises joining an expanded PRO rugby tournament next year. This would now include an extra factor, given that it would pit South Africa’s best local players against the best in Ireland and Scotland.

‘Having coached there before I think it would be very good for us,’ Nienaber said. ‘I was unbelievably surprised when we started coaching in the PRO12 back then, it was probably one of the most fiercely contested competitions in all facets: set pieces, breakdown and skill level.

‘It will be a big step for us and our local franchises. Super Rugby is a bit different, so it will be a big step up for them in terms of the tactics, weather, playing surfaces and refereeing. I am not talking down other competitions, but it is very similar to Test rugby in nature. It will be phenomenal to join a PRO16 or PRO14.’

Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

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Dylan Jack