Springboks not hiding any secrets from Lions, says Nienaber

Pretoria (AFP) – The world champion Springboks are not concealing any secrets from the British and Irish Lions, according to head coach Jacques Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi.

“We were not holding anything back,” said Kolisi after South Africa beat Georgia 40-9 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday night in the first of two Tests ahead of a three-match series against the Lions.

“We said we would pick the best available side for both games (against Georgia),” said Nienaber, who added that the physicality of the east Europeans gave the Springboks “a marker” in their first Test in 20 months since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The coronavirus pandemic prevented the Springboks fulfilling any of their 13 international fixtures scheduled for last year while all the other major rugby nations played.  

“Compliments to the Georgians,” said Nienaber. “They caught us a little bit at first in the first half but now we have got a marker.

“We wanted to assess how we would be at the breakdown, at the scrums, at our mauling and at our defence.

“It’s tough training against each other because it’s never full-out at the breakdowns, in defence. We now know where we are.”

It was Nienaber’s first match as head coach, but World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus, now the national director of rugby, played what appeared to be a prominent role, wearing a bib as a water carrier and talking to the players when there were stoppages.

– Erasmus carries water –

Nienaber did not clarify Erasmus’s full role.

“We try to think out of the box,” he said. “It was nice to have Rassie getting feedback from the players, running water.”

Nienaber fulfilled a similar role at the last World Cup while Erasmus sat in the coach’s box.

Asked whether the Springboks were concealing anything in their tactics with the Lions in mind, Kolisi said: “We did not start off the way we wanted to, we could not get our scrumming and our mauling the way we wanted it to be. We were not holding anything back.”

Kolisi said he was pleased with South Africa’s improvement in the second half when they scored 21 unanswered points after leading 19-9 at half-time.

“We have never tried to hide away from the fact that our set pieces are important to us and we know they are important to them (the Lions) and to the Georgians, too.

“We we’re not thinking so much about the Lions — we were focusing on the Georgians.”

Towering lock Eben Etzebeth was replaced at half-time. Nienaber said he appeared to have a rib injury but was not sure of the extent of it.

Several players who joined the Springboks late because of European club commitments, including star France-based wing Cheslin Kolbe, are likely to be considered for the second Test at Ellis Park in Johannesburg next Friday.

“We have to improve on everything,” said Nienaber. “After not playing for 20 months we expected it to be a bit stop-start, but there was a noticeable change in the second half.”

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