Rugby Championship

Why the Springboks stuck with under-fire Pollard and co for Aussie rematch

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Morne Steyn hasn't been enlisted to be a specialist back-up kicker. (Photo by Tertius Pickard/Gallo Images)
Morne Steyn hasn't been enlisted to be a specialist back-up kicker. (Photo by Tertius Pickard/Gallo Images)
  • The Springboks' minimal changes for the weekend's match against the Wallabies is down to team management taking the emotion out of selection.
  • Head coach Jacques Nienaber believes it was important to do so with regards to issues such as back-up to Handre Pollard or picking three loosies on the bench.
  • He also pointed out that being objective about a performance reveals surprising results which influence selection.

Keeping the emotion out of selection in any sporting code is something that cuts both ways.

It either grants coaches the "freedom" to un-fussily make necessary changes or it prompts them to preach calm and reason by sticking to their guns when many around them passionately advocate for switches.

The Springboks on Wednesday clearly illustrated that they fall into the latter category after making only two changes for Saturday's Rugby Championship "second leg" against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

READ | Springboks go diplomatic route as ref debate rages: 'It's a difficult job'

Questions have been raised over the decisions to, in particular, still not provide specialist goal-kicking cover for flyhalf Handre Pollard as well as maintain the status quo of having three loose forwards on the bench.

The Pollard issue has dominated the week's discourse after he and Damian Willemse spurned 10 points in last week's 28-26 loss to the Aussies due to missed shots at the posts.

National coach Jacques Nienaber bore the marks of a man comfortable with his decisions.

"In terms of [our lack of changes], we really try to think as unemotionally as possible about team selection," he said.

"When you look at things in that manner, it helps a lot."

He explained that the most obvious example is to acknowledge that while Pollard's wayward kicking was the most visible mistakes made on the day, it wasn't worse than the 21 tackles the South African defence missed on the night.

"Nobody misses a kick at goal on purpose. Nobody knocks a ball on because they want to and nobody misses a tackle just for the sake of it," said Nienaber.

"Looking at last week's game unemotionally, one would quickly realise that we could've still won that game and nobody would've said anything.

"We wouldn't have had this debate about a contingency plan. There were issues that we had to think in the kicking game and defence. We weren't on song in both departments and we've had to work on that."

Furthermore, making willy nilly changes would fundamentally go against the objective manner in which team management try to assess every performance before plotting the course for the next match.

"We always want to be objective. Regardless of a result, we've got a report card template that we go through after every game," said Nienaber.

"Sometimes, out of 12 so-called big ticket issues that we've identified for a match, we'd sometimes only tick four out of 12 items but we'd win the game by 20 points.

"It doesn't mean we played well. We've had matches where we've lost and actually ticked 11 out of the 12 boxes. The only one we didn't tick is if we won the match. Sometimes you play well and lose, sometimes you play poorly and win.

"It's important to look at things from an unemotional point of view."

Kick-off on Saturday is at 09:05 (SA time).

Teams:

Australia

15 Tom Banks, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper

Substitutes: 16 Feleti Kaitu'u, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Jordan Petaia

Springboks 

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marco van Staden, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse

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