- Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has defended leaving out certain in-form rookies for the national side's tour to Europe, stating that the overall form of their URC teams was a factor.
- Nienaber argues individual form must lead to the team also lifting their game and achieving more consistent results because that suggests a player is going beyond the call of duty.
- Team management also believe that depth is being created, even if it's not immediately apparent.
Local franchises' iffy showings on their respective United Rugby Championship tours proved a major factor in the Springboks not granting a few more rookies an opportunity for next month's tour to Europe.
While wholesale changes to the national squad were highly unlikely from the outset, there had been an expectation that men like the Stormers duo of Evan Roos (eighthman) and Warrick Gelant (fullback) could be included along with tireless Bulls lock Ruan Nortje.
Instead, it was Roos and Gelant's team-mate, Salmaan Moerat, who was the only player included that hasn't been named in a previous Bok group for 2021.
In explaining the omissions, Springbok mentor Jacques Nienaber conceded that "there are some young players that can be disappointed", but believes that individual form has to be accompanied by team performances that show an upward curve.
South Africa's teams only combined for four victories out of 16 matches in the first batch of URC fixtures.
"Those players probably fall in the category of fringe national players, where they are delivering proper performances at franchise level. If you look at it, there were probably one or two good performances from a teams’ perspective and I agree guys like Evan have put in some proper individual performances," said Nienaber.
"But the key is now to put in consistent performances and kick-on in teams that are performing consistently, not only at an individual level. It's almost a case of the team having to be lifted by the showings of those players."
The rationale is quite simple.
"By doing that, you encourage a player to take ownership of different things, like his department (spearheading the line-outs or taking the lead at ruck-time) or showing general leadership. The players know exactly what we're talking about," said Nienaber.
"Evan is playing brilliant rugby, but what about Jasper Wiese? He's only played ten Tests and will possibly add another three more. He's still very much a rookie. He's in this position (having a Springbok spot) because he kept knocking and knocking on the door.
"Even when he came in, he was probably No 4 in the pecking order. Then Duane got injured, Dan (du Preez) got Covid and Jean-Luc (du Preez) became injured. He persisted and got his chance.
"There's no door standing in anyone's face, we're still watching everyone and keeping tabs on their performances."
Moerat's case is also slightly different in that he would've been in the national squad for the Lions and Rugby Championship had he not sustained a freakish, career-threatening neck injury in training earlier in the year.
"I've had the privilege of coaching him at junior level too. He's come through our system and we're excited to see how he makes the step-up," said Nienaber.
As a result, there will in all likelihood be some debate on whether Nienaber and co are placing too much of a premium on consistency in selection and experience.
It is a strategy that has bedevilled some of his predecessors, though he argues South Africa's lack of playing time last year has left enough fire in the bellies of his stalwarts.
He also points out that the Boks are building depth, even if it doesn't seem immediately apparent.
"I think we've been building a squad since 2018 and it was well-documented that Rassie has a six-year contract up till 2023, so that’s what the premium is on.
"Also, if you look at the squad, we have youngsters coming in at every tier – like Ox Nche or Joseph Dweba or Salmaan and Jasper Wiese. We’re continuously introducing younger players.
"It's probably just at flyhalf where we didn’t do that. Even in the back three, we have a newbie in Aphelele Fassi.
"We have our eye on consistency and experience because that’s what we'll need at a World Cup. We're fortunate in that most of our squad is experienced, but still quite young. The average age is 28, you don't always achieve that."
Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Salmaan Moerat, Marvin Orie, Siya Kolisi, Kwagga Smith, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese, Franco Mostert
Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Grant Williams, Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Aphelele Fassi, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Frans Steyn, Damian Willemse