It is often noted how spectacularly sporting fortunes can change in just one week.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, in the build-up to his team’s landmark Test against the All Blacks last week, spoke about how his team needed to reach within to find answers after their twin defeats by the Wallabies.
“We asked what our soul is and what we do as South Africans,” said Nienaber, who said earlier that his team deviated too far from their trusted methods in their 30-17 defeat by the resurgent Australians.
It wasn’t so much a return to the drawing board as the Boks rediscovered their competitive edge and ran the All Blacks closer than many had expected in their 19-17 defeat in Townsville.
While drawing from those qualities and tactical blueprint helped get the Boks into a position of promise, it curiously also helped grease the wheels of their demise in the closing minutes.
The Boks’ reliance on their kicking game has been all too apparent since Rassie Erasmus and Nienaber started steering the team in 2018, but it was the aerial obsession in the closing minutes of last week’s game that amplified derision and dissent among fans.
It is apparently what this generation of Springbok is most comfortable doing.
“We’ve got a specific soul and DNA in this team,” vice-captain and flyhalf Handré Pollard reminded from Surfer’s Paradise. Having deviated from the script against the Wallabies, the Boks are now again in possession of what makes them tick.
“We trust our plan. Of course, it is different [applying the boot in positions of promise] and the boys stuck to it really well,” he said.
Going to the air, lest we forget, helped elevate the Boks in the world order in the past few years. It is when it doesn’t work and they lose that it becomes thoroughly unedifying.
“That’s an area where we really feel we’re the best in the world, the aerial contests. It’s something we really work hard at. It’s unorthodox, but we do it,” said Pollard.
Nienaber said when he named his team for Saturday’s return clash against the All Blacks in Gold Coast that the Boks would continue to engage in aerial combat.
They would continue with the blueprint that helped make them World Champions and the No 1 ranked team in the world until last week.
Pollard explained that the players draw comfort from familiarity of those around them, and the well-worn battle plan.
“Of course, losing a couple in a row would make you think that you’d lose a bit of confidence. But, particularly among our team leaders, we really have so much belief in our process and we get confidence from our preparation and from each other.”
He went on to explain that how they go about their business on the field will not be determined by what went down the week before.
“We don’t really look back at results, even if you won the previous week. We give confidence to each other, the way we interact and train.
“When Saturday comes, it’s really just about executing as best as you can. There will be a few decisions you ideally would want back, but that’s rugby. We still train the same and with the same intensity and quality.”