Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Neinaber reveal why the Springboks changed tact and made things ‘tougher’ for France

Jared Wright
Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus, scrum-half Cobus Reinach and fly-half Manie Libbok.

Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus, scrum-half Cobus Reinach and fly-half Manie Libbok.

Springboks coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have explained why they moved from their traditional team announcements for the Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France.

Leading up to Test matches, teams typically announce their matchday line-ups at least 48 hours in advance.

However, since the 2019 World Cup, the Springboks coaches made a point of revealing their hands early and named their teamsheets on the Tuesday before a game.

The move was to stop speculation around the teams and with the Bok coaching team already deciding the line-up by that point and had announced it to the team, they believed that it might as well go out early.

Keeping it quiet

However, they changed this tactic ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France, with Nienaber and Erasmus citing the size of Fabien Galthie’s coaching and analytical team for the tweak.

“We normally get the team out nice and early but this time, we only did it on the Thursday. We changed our team announcement from doing it earlier in the week, to only doing it later or 72 hours before the game – like all the other teams do,” Nienaber said in a Betway exclusive snippet from the Chasing the Sun 2 documentary.

“And the reason was we didn’t want our team to get out and them to prepare because they have like 14 analysts.

“So the moment your team is out there, they can take a player and just pull the profile.”

The Springboks would also make a few surprising selections for the crunch fixture, returning to a more traditional 5-3 split for the match despite the firepower the French had, particularly up front.

While many predicted that Handre Pollard would start the match, it was Manie Libbok who ran out at 10 instead, along with another shock in Cobus Reinach at scrum-half instead of Faf de Klerk.

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Mixing and match

In episode three of the series, Erasmus notes that the Springboks were a difficult team to analyse because of all the changes they made to their matchday 23 in the build-up to and during the competition.

He reiterated that sentiment again in the snippet.

“I thought the mixing and matching of teams, not always playing the same [players], even when we played the All Blacks at Twickenham that was with a totally different team,” Erasmus said.

“That definitely must have made it tougher on any team who had any kind of data on us.

“When you play with four nines and a nine at 10, then a 10 at 12 or 12 at 15 and the flank at hooker and lock at flank and so on. It makes it a little bit difficult for that [analysis] to have any impact because you don’t have as many minutes to pick up a trend.”

Nienaber added: “From the teams we selected leading up to the quarter-final, they couldn’t say it is going Manie [Libbok], Handre Pollard, Damian Willemse at fly-half or Faf [de Klerk] at fly-half. Because at the World Cup, in the build-up to that quarter-final, all four of those guys play fly-half.”

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French resources were split

The Springboks coaches added that it wasn’t just fly-half where they kept the French guessing with Willie le Roux and Damian Willemse sharing the full-back jersey, and when Makazole Mapimpi got injured, 2019 World Cup star Lukhanyo Am returned to the squad with questions raised whether Jesse Kriel would retain his starting role while Canan Moodie also starred in the role against the All Blacks and in the pool stages.

“So their resources were split because we rotated so much,” Nienaber added.

“That’s why we postponed our team announcement so late, so they only had two days to now know ‘Ok, this is the team we’re going to play against’ and profiles on them.”

Quiz: Can you name every Springboks captain since 1995?