Springbok coach, Jacques Nienaber has been left with no option but to choose his strongest possible team for the incoming series decider against Wales in Cape Town on Saturday.
Nienaber used the first two tests to take a long hard look at his squad but now he has to go with his best team in order to clinch the series.
Nienaber has made 11 changes to his starting 15 hoping to blow Wales away.
The Springboks are back to full strength for this must-win series decider against Wales. Siya Kolisi takes back his captain’s armband, while key combinations like Damian De Allende and Lukhanyo Am as the centre pairing, and Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi on the wings, were sorely missed and clearly cannot be replaced so easily.
Nienaber is clear that he is going to be leaning heavily on his first-choice players in the third test. They’re the ones he’s banking on to deliver the clutch performances.
“There is a specific game plan that we lay down as a foundation but within that game plan you must bring your own individuality to that table otherwise we could have selected a bunch of robots. So each of the players that we selected has got a specific skill set almost a circus act that he has to bring to the party otherwise we could have selected someone else,” says Nienaber.
Eben Etzebeth will earn his 100th test cap becoming just the seventh South African to become a centurion while Bongi Mbonambi hits the half-century mark. They’re the players in this match-day 23 that form the core of Nienaber’s Bok plans and he is now looking to them with the series on the line.
“We need to get exposure to knockout rugby and I thought the first game was knockout rugby because we had to come back and the second game was a knockout game if we win that the series was wrapped up and then this last game is now a knockout game for us. So it is good for us to get exposure to knockout rugby,” Nienaber explains.
Some players like Jaden Hendrickse at scrumhalf have seen off formidable opposition to get the starting berth which is proof that Nienaber is rewarding form over reputation. Hendrickse is going straight into the fire, with no room for error.
“It is like a final for us, if we win we win the series so there are a bit of nerves but once it comes closer to the game and once I do my first play then the nerves will go away and I just need to execute my job,” says Hendrickse.
Nienaber continues to defend his selection policy saying he needed the three-test series against Wales to have a proper look at his extended squad because while many shone in the United Rugby Championship, the Top 14, and the English Premiership, Test level is the real measure of a Springbok.
“Club rugby or franchise rugby you can judge a player there the whole season but you need to see him at a test match, you need to see him in a test match where there is pressure. I think it is unfair to play a player in a game where he wants to shine and he wants to perform but there is nothing on in the game so I thought that was the reason for us going with that selection last week. No disrespect to Wales but I really think that team could have beaten wales,” Nienaber reiterates.
This past weekend proved yet again that the Northern hemisphere is neck and neck with the Southern superpowers, with Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and France all winning away. There will be four series deciders this weekend. The Springboks join their Rugby Championship counterparts in fighting to retain their international reputations.