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Bok coach will keep close eye on URC semis

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Nienaber said it is vital that this year is used to grow depth in every position ahead of next year’s World Cup.

South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber during the Test match against WalesWales at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff, UK, 6 Nov 2021. Picture: Kieran McManus/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Johannesburg – There will be no keener eye on the United Rugby Championship (URC) semi-finals this weekend than that of Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, who will continue his evaluation of back-up players for the imminent series against Wales and the better they perform in the elevated pressure of knockout rugby against the competition’s best, the more they will impress.

Nienaber said it is vital that this year is used to grow depth in every position ahead of next year’s World Cup. He added that the Boks need to grow their game plan, and with the Bulls and Stormers both playing an entertaining brand of off-load rugby, the further they advance in the URC, the better the chance of Nienaber allowing the Boks to play more adventurously.

The Bulls have off-loaded the ball more than any of the other 16 teams in radically transforming their game under Jake White, while the Stormers have scored many of the competition’s best tries with their cavalier approach.

Nienaber is not about to ditch the conservative, kick-for-territory approach that won the 2019 World Cup and defeated the British & Irish Lions, but he did say there is room for growth in how the Boks play.

“We are trying to develop our game at different levels,” he said.

“Without going into specifics for obvious reasons, there were areas of our game from the 2021 season that we have to improve on, so two key areas are to develop our game on the field and create squad depth.

“The latter can be done by bringing in young players and giving guys who have already played for us but are still young within the system, more Test experience.

“In the group that is here (in the Johannesburg training camp) for example, there is a good balance between experience and youth with players such as Lukhanyo (Am) and Siya (Kolisi) and other guys like Grant (Williams), Ntuthuko (Mchunu), Aphelele (Fassi) and Jaden (Hendrikse), and it will probably be the same with players from the other teams as they complete their club commitments.”

Nienaber said he would announce a squad of close to 42 players for the international season, with the official squad announcement set for Thursday, June 23.

An area where Nienaber needs to explore his depth is flyhalf, where Elton Jantjies has been picked for the current training camp, although this could change if Jantjies is found guilty on various charges of misconduct on a recent flight from Dubai to Johannesburg.

Nienaber said he held the view that Jantjies is “innocent until proved guilty”.

“Elton wasn’t in the Springbok camp when the alleged incident happened,” the coach said.

“He has not been found guilty of anything and thus we are including him in our preparations.”

This weekend, Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok has a great chance of underlining his credentials as back-up to Handré Pollard, although Bulls No.10 Chris Smith, who has not yet been mentioned as a Bok candidate, might change that with a match-winning performance against Leinster.

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