Jacques Nienaber: Springboks’ 6/2 split almost backfired in decisive Test

Dylan Coetzee

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber admits there is always a risk when opting for a 6/2 split on the bench, as South Africa almost realised against Wales in the final Test.

Star wing Cheslin Kolbe was removed from the field with a fractured jaw in the first half and was replaced by Willie le Roux, who slotted in at full-back with Damian Willemse at inside centre, Damian de Allende at outside, and Lukhanyo Am on the wing in a rejigged backline.

Touch and go

During the second half, Willemse had taken multiple knocks whilst Handre Pollard was a fitness concer,n meaning the Springboks were stretched as they only had scrum-half Faf de Klerk on the bench.

Nienaber understands the strategy’s risks and admitted he would have preferred to have had the chance to put De Klerk on earlier.

“It’s not ideal, especially when you go with the 6/2 split,” the coach admitted after the match.

“A lot of people talk about the bomb squad, but it always comes at a risk. It’s not always ideal when you lose one of your backs, especially a quality back like Cheslin so early in the game.

“We probably would have loved to put Faf on a little bit earlier, but unfortunately we had to keep him back.”

Duo did well to make the full 80

Willemse showed impressive versatility to slot in at first centre seamlessly but was a concern late on. Pollard’s lack of game time at Montpellier was another worry, but Nienaber was grateful the duo made it the distance.

“I thought he (Willemse) stuck in well,” Nienaber added.

“With losing Cheslin, we had to move him into No 12, and it was almost a re-shuffle of the backline.

“Damian had a little bit of a knock and we also weren’t sure about Handre and his cramps.

“Since he (Pollard) told Montpellier that he’s going to move to Leicester, they basically haven’t played him at all. They just threw him out. It’s up to them, I’m not criticising that, but he hasn’t had a lot of opportunity on the field.

“It was a Catch-22. Will Damian last? Will Handre last? I thought both of them fought through, and that gave us the opportunity to get Faf on.”

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