Boks can still defend title, says Nienaber, but mistakes must be fixed
Jacques Nienaber is adamant the Springboks can still successfully defend their Rugby World Cup crown but some corrective measures will have to be the order of the day if they are to win a record fourth title.
The Bok coach saw his team go down 13-8 to Ireland in a tense, nerve-jangling match that was in the balance right to the end at a packed Stade de France on Saturday evening.
The result, in effectively the pool B decider, was not a terminal blow for the Boks, but it has presented them posers they'd rather avoid.
Such was the frenetic pace and intensity of the game for which both teams could prepare for almost 1,000 days that it was over in a flash.
“Ja, we can still. In 2019 did you think we can still win the World Cup after we lost [our opening game] against New Zealand in 2019?” Nienaber said, calling on history as an ally.
“We are in this competition to win it. Teams that lose in the pool stages must work hard to get out of the pool stages.
“Definitely, we can still win it. We played the number one team in the world. We had an opportunity in the 79th minute to get the result, but we didn't.
“Hats off to Ireland. If we can fix that and have a bit of luck we can win the World Cup.”
Captain Siya Kolisi had a similar message, though he insisted the Boks keep their gaze ahead.
“We always prepare for any scenario. We speak about it openly and honestly,” he said.
“We've been in this position before, we are not going to shy away from it. When we lose we can't be down because it doesn't help you. The quicker you're over it the better it is for the group.”
It was a match of tight margins from the outset. The teams remained a converted try apart throughout and Nienaber was spot on about the his team potentially snatching the game at the death.
It was not to be. Ireland's defence was exceptional in the face of frenzied Springbok attack, particularly in the second half. Their star flanker Josh van der Flier was outstanding but overall Ireland's understanding of what was required at the ruck won them the day.
They were particularly effective when the Boks came knocking deep inside their 22.
South Africa had much more ball and territory in the second half but getting over the try line was not the only area in which they were off the mark. Manie Libbok and Faf de Klerk missed two kicks each that might have changed the result but the Boks will probably have to concede Ireland won the key moments in the game.
“They were better than us on the night,” admitted Nienaber.
“That is the one area where Ireland was exceptional,” he said about Ireland's efforts at the breakdown.
“That is probably the biggest reason we didn't get momentum. We were overpowered at our own attacking breakdown. That's how we lost those opportunities close to the try line.”
When asked how they would fix it Nienaber said: “Train harder and get better at it.”
After a slight pause he added: “We knew it was coming. We made some plans during the week that would negate their tactics at the breakdown, their defensive breakdown.
“Obviously it didn't work consistently. That's the lessons we'll have to take out of this game. We'll have to make new plans to deal with that better.”
Kolisi, too, conceded Ireland were on point when the ball was on the deck.
“They were more accurate than us. They were faster to the breakdown. We knew it was coming.
“We attacked so well and got into the 22. The opportunities we lost came through the breakdown.
“That's on us as players. We take full responsibility for that. Hopefully we meet them again and be better against Tonga next week.”
Nienaber was loath to lay the blame for the defeat solely on his team's inaccuracy when kicking for goal.
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