Cape Town - Played 13, won eight, lost five. That’s not a good enough set of results for a team like the Springboks in 2021, especially as they are the world champions.
To their credit, coach Jacques Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi both felt that South Africa’s win percentage should have been better – although there were a number of mitigating factors involved, such as the Covid-19 bubbles and the fact that they had to play four consecutive away games in Australia against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
“That’s the third time this year that we have lost the game when we’ve been leading by one or two points at 78 minutes, so it’s very disappointing. It’s something that we’ll have to look at and improve on,” Nienaber said following the 27-26 defeat to England at Twickenham at the weekend.
“I told the team in the changeroom afterwards that they’re better than our winning percentage this season (62%), which is skewed by the loss of those close games.
“This year was one where we always knew that we’d be finding out where we were after missing out on 2020.
“I think we can definitely improve, and we’re not where we want to be. I don’t want to go into detail, but there are things that we want to work on – our execution of opportunities can be better, for one.”
Kolisi added: “The (England) result obviously didn’t make us happy because I believe this team can achieve so much more. Mentally, this is a strong team – to go through what we have gone through was really tough.
“But we have taken everything that has been thrown at us head-on and we kept working – but we know this game is about results, and we’ll come back strongly next year.”
Indeed, the game is about results, but that goes for the short-term and the future.
Most of the Bok defeats were by just a few points – 22-17 to the British & Irish Lions, 30-28 to Australia, 19-17 to the All Blacks and 27-26 to England, with the only “big” margin coming in the 30-17 loss to the Wallabies.
So, in terms of the 2021 season’s results, the Boks need to learn to close out tight games. The losses to Australia were leading with less than five minutes to go in those Tests.
There is an art to that, and it’s something that Nienaber needs to devise a strategy for. The “Bomb Squad” has seemingly been primed to make an impact and take the fight to the opposition when they come on early in the second half – and sometimes apply their own pressure in the last five minutes? Do you kick up-and-unders and contest for the ball in their half? Do you hold on to possession and try not to concede penalties? Or kick the ball into touch in their half and contest their lineout?
Another aspect is the make-up of the Bomb Squad. Should there be six fullback at all times, or should a devastating runner such as a Sbu Nkosi or Aphelele Fassi be considered to bring some extra bite on attack in the second half?
Talking about Fassi ... The longterm result is about growing the squad depth for the 2023 World Cup in France.
It is an absolute travesty that the Sharks star didn’t see more action than the Georgia and Argentina Tests, where he excelled at left wing. With Willie le Roux’s form fluctuating throughout the year, it would’ve been ideal to have watched Fassi at fullback on the endof-year tour, especially after Damian Willemse’s concussion early in the Wales Test.
There are also some other fringe players who needed an opportunity to get a real feel for Test rugby – hooker Joseph Dweba, scrumhalf Grant Williams and even youngsters like Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw, who have been outstanding for the Stormers and Bulls respectively.
Nienaber has said that there are several players who have been part of the Bok squad for a few years and haven’t been given proper opportunities, such as Willemse and Herschel Jantjies, who received them on the end-ofyear tour. But to that list I would add Elton Jantjies and Marco van Staden, who impressed almost every time they came on to the pitch.
Elton showed his class with a couple of silky touches in his start against Scotland, and he also delivered a great pass down the line to set up Makazole Mapimpi’s try against England – with Lukhanyo Am pulling off a wonderful cut-out pass as well in that move – so Elton needed to get another start at Twickenham.
Even someone like Thomas du Toit deserved more game time. Yes, the two Bok front rows are operating in glorious fashion at the moment, but Du Toit was outstanding for the Sharks in the few games he played, and is also capable of playing at loosehead and tighthead.
His giant frame makes him an especially effective ball-carrier, and someone who can provide more go-forward ball in that regard than any of the other Bok props, who are solid, if unspectacular with ball-in-hand.
Let’s hope that those fringe players don’t lose hope and motivation that they will get their chances in 2022. As we’ve seen with the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Faf de Klerk, injuries are an ever-present danger in rugby, and it is vital that Nienaber & Co prepare the next-in-line players for all eventualities ahead of France 2023.