After the Boks’ second humbling defeat by Australia, CRAIG LEWIS identifies three points to ponder, including whether there needs to be changes to the team.
Multiple factors contributing to Springbok slump
The Springboks are not suddenly a terrible team overnight, but they have lost some of their ‘mojo’, and there does appear to be an element of both physical and mental fatigue at play.
There can be no excuses made for the Boks’ battles in Australia, but you have to wonder just how this squad has been impacted by such an extended period of ‘hotel living’.
Bear in mind that the Springboks went into a three-week conditioning camp back in June. For the past three months they have predominantly been in a stringent bio-bubble environment, which has included an inordinate amount of Covid-19 tests.
A significant virus outbreak did spread through the Bok squad on the eve of the British & Irish Lions tour, but the team managed to recover and produced a famous series win over the Lions, although it undoubtedly would have drained the players. As much as you can get ‘up’ for a tour like that, it stands to reason that it is also usually followed by a ‘come down’ period.
However, the Boks barely had time to catch their breath before heading straight into the Rugby Championship.
In fairness, they didn’t look at their best against Argentina before a belated departure to Australia and another quarantine period followed.
The Springboks’ gameplan requires an intensity, accuracy and physicality that simply does not work if the players are flat, and that’s exactly how they have looked over the past fortnight.
It’s not the only problem that has beset the Boks recently, but for the purposes of this article, it’s definitely something worth pondering when considering what sort of toll the past three months of virtually non-stop time away from home and in camp may have taken.
Is there time for team changes?
The last two Bok performances suggest that perhaps some players do need a break, and for the team to be refreshed to allow for some first-choice players to rest, while affording opportunities to other fringe players who may be raring to go.
An obvious problem with this, though, is that a massive and historic 100th Test against the All Blacks is not the occasion to make any drastic changes.
There is set to be at least one change as Lood de Jager returns, but with Cheslin Kolbe still doubtful, it will be interesting to see whether the Boks stick with Sbu Nkosi or perhaps consider bringing in an X-factor impact player such as Rosko Specman.
More subtle alterations could give Ox Nche a start and perhaps a new injection on to the bench of players such as Frans Steyn and Cobus Reinach could be considered.
There could also be a temptation to revert to a more traditional blindside flank, with Jean-Luc du Preez or Rynhardt Elstadt offering options if Franco Mostert moves back to the bench.
The spine of the team won’t be uprooted, but the time has surely come to at least make a handful of changes.
Can Jacques Nienaber refocus the Boks on the ‘main thing’?
It was clear to see how personally Nienaber and the players took this past Saturday’s defeat by the Wallabies, with the Bok coach apologising for the result and admitting it was a performance that was not worth of the green-and-gold jersey.
Nienaber hasn’t been in the head coach role for a long, but he will be fully aware of the pressure that accompanies the job, particularly when the team starts to disappoint in defeat.
This scenario is not dissimilar to the situation faced in the first year of the Rassie Erasmus-Nienaber regime in 2018, when the Boks lost to Argentina and Australia on the road, but then rebounded with a remarkable win over the All Blacks that set the team on an upward trajectory from that point on.
This weekend, the Springboks head into battle as underdogs and with their backs against the wall, and that’s often when you see them respond by producing a statement performance.
If the Boks can cut out the soft errors and uncharacteristic tackle misses that have haunted them over the past two matches, while retaining focus on the ‘main things’ that have been so central to their successes since 2018, there is every chance this Saturday’s result will be far more favourable.
It’s a massive test that awaits Nienaber and this Bok group at a time when the pressure is rapidly building.