- Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber admits his charges will not defend their world crown based on how they are currently handling it.
- The Boks have missed an average of 20 tackles per game in their last five games, but Nienaber points out that they are not using those stats to address issues in that area.
- While he’s not trying to make excuses, he says a lack of continuity in some rosters has contributed to a more idiosyncratic defense.
The Springboks’ vaunted defense may not be leaking like a sieve, but it has been inaccurate enough for head coach Jacques Nienaber to admit that his troops will not defend their World Cup title as it stands.
South Africa has already let in 14 attempts from 7 starts in 2022, which is 3 more than what they admitted in the entire triumphant 2019 campaign and just 5 away from the number they let in in 13 matches last year.
July’s 3rd Test against Wales at the Cape Town Stadium – a match won 30-14 – even started a trend for the Boks to miss a notable number of tackles in their last five games, amounting to around 20 per game.
But while the extra week in Argentina spent preparing for Saturday’s Rugby Championship meeting with the Pumas has focused heavily on defense, Nienaber candidly explained that publicly available statistics are not necessarily those used by coaches themselves. .
“To be honest, I don’t know what the stats are right now. If you asked me what our completion rate is, I couldn’t tell you,” said Nienaber, a man who built a reputation as a world-renowned defense guru before joining became national coach.
“It’s actually not a stat I focus on because it’s a bit misleading. You could concede four maul attempts, have them all converted and trail 28-0 without actually missing a tackle.”
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That doesn’t mean he’s turning a blind eye.
“Are we where we need to be, especially when it comes to winning a World Cup? Probably not. There are a number of reasons for that,” Nienaber said.
“One is roster continuity, which has not always been a big focus this season, as we may have focused a bit more broadly and picked a few rookies to perform in very high stakes situations, such as an Elrigh Louw, Canan Moodie and Jaden Hendrikse.”
“With consistency in roster comes consistency in performance. I’m certainly not covering for defense, but there are reasons why we don’t quite uphold our usual standards.
“There are certainly performance-based metrics that we look at when it comes to tackling and defending, but not the normal tackle completion rates. There are other key performance indicators that we look at.
“But I can safely say that we are not at the level where we need to be.”
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lead de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Elrigh Louw, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Frans Steyn
However, it’s not just defensive adjustments needed against hosts who have assembled a team that suggests they intend to topple the current world champions.
“I don’t think we are radically changing our approach, but we can certainly create subtle ways that can give us a different output on the field,” Nienaber said.
“Argentina is definitely bringing something different to the table, so we’re going to have to make a few changes to our pattern to make sure we keep them at bay.”
Kick-off is at 9:10 PM.