No mind games behind early Bok announcement, says Nienaber
As the players knew on Monday who the match-day 23 were, the management decided to make it public
The naming of the Springbok team a day earlier than planned was a practical decision and not part of any mind-game strategy designed to send out a signal of intent to the British & Irish Lions, SA coach Jacques Nienaber says.
Emotions have been running high in the build-up to the Test, with SA’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, and Lions coach Warren Gatland at odds over refereeing decisions.
Nienaber was quick to pour cold water over suggestions that a decision to bring the naming of the Bok side forward was part of a strategic plan.
The Boks have selected a strong side, with 21 players in the match-day 23 having featured in the 2019 World Cup-winning campaign in Japan.
“From a logistical perspective, the team knew [the squad] on Monday,” Nienaber said. “Irrespective if we announce it on a Wednesday or a Tuesday, the players knew the names of the 23 on Monday.
“There were a couple of players who were bracketed to make sure everybody got through the first training session. We are as transparent as we can be with the players.
“We felt moving it earlier was easier, to get it out the way. There’s no strategic thinking in terms of bringing it a day forward.
“The players knew already, so we could just as well put it out to the public.”
Nienaber said the Boks are preparing to face a versatile Lions side that have many options.
“They can go with the aerial bombardment, they can go with an out-passing, outflanking game, they can come direct,” he said.
“So that’s probably the big challenge for us — they’ve selected a squad that is very versatile and they can confront us with multiple styles, so that’s probably going to be one of the bigger challenges I’m looking forward to, to see how we can handle that.
“That’s why I say, if you look at the squad we’ve selected, that team will have to find solutions in the game because I think we are going to be tested on multiple fronts.
“If you look at the squad they selected, they are the best of the best of four top nations in the world combined together, so obviously the skill set that they possess is multiple.
“If the flyhalf struggles, he might be the No 1 flyhalf in Wales … [but] they just take the No 1 flyhalf in England. If he struggles, they just take the No 1 flyhalf in Scotland.
“That is the big challenge of a British & Irish Lions tour.”
Nienaber described Gregor Townsend as a creative, attacking coach who thinks out of the box. “So yes, they have multiple options.”
With flyhalf Handré Pollard and wing Makazole Mapimpi having only recently recovered from Covid-19, Nienaber decided to use a 6-2 split on the bench, in favour of having an extra back as cover.
“We planned our team selections carefully, which is why it was important for us to play a third match after the second Test against Georgia was cancelled, and we know what the players we selected can do.
“That most of the players participated in the Rugby World Cup means they know one another well on and off the field, and as coaches we know what they have to offer after having worked with most of them for several years.”
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