Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber says they haven’t pre-planned their substitutions for their Series-opener against the British & Irish Lions in any particular way and that a starting player’s performance will dictate when they make the switch.
One of the standout factors when Nienaber named his team on Tuesday was the make-up of the bench. For Saturday’s clash, the Bok coaching staff have gone with a five-three split as opposed to the six-two split between forwards and backline replacements that proved so successful during the World Cup. Nienaber explained that they don’t want to put too much pressure on backs like Handre Pollard and Makazole Mapimpi, who had to spend a week in isolation in Joburg, thus missing out on the opportunity to gain some valuable game time with the SA ‘A’ side.
This – along with the lack of game time the players have had since the World Cup – prompted the question of whether the bench would be used in a certain way.
“The moment a player is not producing what or fulfilling his required role, whether it’s fatigue or just that they haven’t been exposed to a lot of rugby lately, we will substitute him,” Nienaber said. “The players know they have a role to play and if we see that isn’t being fulfilled, he will be substituted.”
He also went on to say that the earlier team announcement, which was moved forward a day, wasn’t to prove a point to Warren Gatland and Co – considering the war of words between the Lions chief and SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus in the build-up to the Series – but that it just made sense logistically.
“From a logistical perspective, the team knew the team on Monday, so whether we announce it on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the players knew, even though some of them were bracketed. We have total transparency. We just felt that moving it forward would be easier. There is no strategic thinking or planning behind it.”