British & Irish Lions

Nienaber, Kolisi refuse to blame myriad Covid disruptions for Springboks' first Test defeat

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Frans Malherbe looked off the pace. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)
Frans Malherbe looked off the pace. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)
  • Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber rubbished the view that his side's Covid-related disruptions ahead of the first Test against the British & Irish Lions could be blamed for their defeat.
  • South Africa had based much of their selection strategy for the match on players' pedigree instead of match fitness and backfired in certain instances.
  • Nienaber also shrugged off suggestions that the lack of impact from the bench was a major factor in the loss.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber refused to use his squad's Covid-riddled build-up as an excuse for a performance in the first Test against the British & Irish Lions that fell alarmingly flat.

There had been reservations from some quarters over a selection strategy that relied heavily on the pedigree of some players and not so much their match fitness.

As it turned out, skipper Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche and Handre Pollard all stood up well despite having their preparation disrupted by positive virus tests.

But, on a night where the Boks desperately needed impact from their bench, the plan backfired with regards to the inclusion of Lood de Jager, who only played 17 minutes, and Frans Malherbe.

READ | Bok coach Nienaber has no issues with disallowed Willie le Roux try: 'I trust the TMO 100%'

The latter in particular, who was part of the "Bomb Squad" front-row that included Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx, looked off the pace and lacked his usual defensive output.

He also conceded a penalty at scrum-time.

"I don't believe we can use the Covid excuse," said Nienaber after the 17-22 defeat at the Cape Town Stadium.

"It's well documented that we haven't played a lot of rugby and it would be naïve not to believe that might've affected our cohesion a bit. 

"But then again, in the first half we had good cohesion. What happened in the second half was not because of Covid, we lost the battle in the air."

Kolisi agreed with his national coach, himself having gutsily kept up his intensity for the full 80 minutes.

"I felt fine throughout the game," said the loose forward.

"We got tired, but I can't blame Covid for anything. We had a great week of training, so there really shouldn't have been an effect."

Malherbe's struggles formed part of the broader theme of the substitutes having a limited impact.

Nienaber, however, again shrugged off reading too much into the issue.

"I wasn't disappointed. In the second half we lost it with the kicking game. We got the rewards in the first 40, but then the Lions started to dominate," he said.

"That gave them territory and broken play. And that invariably means that you have to start scrambling."

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