South Africa’s Springboks beat Wales 56-16 in Rugby world cup warm-up game on Saturday at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
As a pragmatist and realist, Jacques Nienaber will always find “problems” to fix in the Springboks’ quest to defend their Rugby World Cup title, but Manie Libbok’s goal-kicking definitely isn’t one for now.
South Africa’s flyhalf was generally accomplished as play-maker on a day where the team scored eight tries in a 52-16 dismantling of Wales in Cardiff. However, there remain reservations over having the Stormers star as the only front-line goal-kicker in the squad for the showpiece.
Libbok spurned no less than 10 points from the kicking tee – missing two conversions and two penalties – with the real concern being the fact that a few of his attempts weren’t particularly taxing.
However, team management would also reasonably argue that it’s more important to back Libbok in context-less warm-up matches for him to build the type of confidence that would see him nail the points on offer when the stakes are at their highest.
If push comes to shove, a variety of other candidates such as Cheslin Kolbe, Damian Willemse and Faf de Klerk can provide stop-gap service off the tee.
Asked what his plan would be if Libbok’s radar is off in future, Nienaber pithily answered: “We’d just tell him to keep firing shots. Keep going. Simple as that.”
It’s a remark that will probably leave some observers uncomfortable though goal-kicking also doesn’t matter too much when you’re visiting the tryline regularly.
Despite the emphatic scoreline, the Bok mentor still believes his troops have numerous work-ons, particularly related to capitalising more ruthlessly on opportunities for points as well as continued problems with discipline.
Eleven penalties (and a yellow card for Willemse for a head-on-head clash) indeed felt high for a team that had so much dominance in the game.
“There were a few opportunities we left unused, especially in the first half. When you’re playing in a tough environment like the World Cup, you can’t afford to let those chances go begging,” said Nienaber.
“Our discipline, particularly in the second half, wasn’t up to standard. I felt it wasn’t better illustrated than early after the break when we conceded a scrum penalty in Wales’ 22, were penalised again at the lineout, gave them entry in our 22, where we infringed again and were ultimately ‘saved’ by Pieter-Steph’s intercept and try.
“You simply can’t allow sequences of play like that in the World Cup, where opponents are going to punish you. We’ll have to be better.”
The Welsh kicking game again exposed some jitteriness in terms of the Boks’ ability to field those bombs forward though Nienaber pointed out that the players’ ability to “find solutions to that during the game” was encouraging.
He also lauded his charges’ intensity and intent on attack.
Understandably given South Africa’s headaches with officiating over the past two years, Nienaber refused to comment on what was an admittedly harsh yellow for home winger Rio Dyer for a deliberate knockdown that led to two tries within a minute for the visitors.
“I’ll get into trouble. We just trust the process. We can’t make media comments,” he said.
“We trust the process in terms of the new bunker system. We had their communications feed throughout the game and I felt the communication between the referees was outstanding. They said from the outset: this is a big decision, we need to take our time.
“They did that and the process that was followed to get to the outcome was good. You can’t fault them for that.”