Johannesburg - South Africa’s defeat of England in the 2019 World Cup final might still be living ‘rent-free’ in the minds of pundits and supporters of that nation, but the Springbok coach is quite over it.
“From our perspective, the World Cup has been so long ago, it is water under the bridge,” said Jacques Nienaber when asked if he is expecting a grudge match this weekend at Twickenham.
“You can’t stay and live in that moment; you need to move on, and we definitely did. It’s a new focus, it’s a new objective, and we are working towards France 2023.”
England, apparently, have a bone to pick with the Boks in an effort to avenge their 32-12 loss in Japan in the final of the World Cup, but if the Bok coach’s selections for the match on Saturday (5.15pm SA time kickoff) is anything to go by, then it will be business as usual.
Nienaber has largely stuck with the same match-day 23 throughout the end-of-year tour, offering no game time to what many would consider the squad’s fringe players, while rotating his preferred players in, out and around the starting XV.
Against England, that means switching Franco Mostert, who started against Scotland, back to Lood de Jager as the No 5 lock; promoting Cobus Reinach to the No 9 jersey while dropping Herschel Jantjies to the bench; and returning Handre Pollard to flyhalf ahead of Elton Jantjies.
The promotion of Reinach to scrumhalf comes as no surprise. Herschel Jantjies battled in both the matches against Wales and Scotland, and the dynamic 25-year-old seemed rusty in his execution and two steps too slow to the breakdown.
Reinach should then rectify that particular problem immediately.
Meanwhile, Elton Jantjies could feel slightly aggrieved that he finds himself back on the bench after a competent outing against Scotland last week that perhaps called for another starting opportunity.
But, as Nienaber insisted, the Pollard-Elton switch is and has always been part of the plan.
“We had certain internal goals and things that we wanted to try out in the end-of-year tour, while trying not to compromise or lose momentum,” said Nienaber.
“I thought Elton was outstanding last weekend, and it is good for us to give him a start. The way he trains and the way he performs in games, he is really pushing hard.
“I thought Handre did well when he came on (in the Scotland game). Obviously, with Elton on the bench, it gives us a little bit of versatility at the back-end of the game.”
The English are said to be facing a front-row crisis, which could see an inexperienced trio come up against the extremely formidable Bok sextet of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane, and from the bench, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch.
Nienaber, however, cautioned that England will be no pushovers, even with these supposed setbacks.
“Although one can look at (England) and say there is some youth in the squad, if you look at the spine of the squad – the majority of the team – there are some old hands,” he said.
“If Joe Marler is back in the mix against us ... he played in the World
Cup final, Kyle Sinckler (and) Maro Itoje played in the World Cup final … If you look at (Tom) Curry, (Sam) Underhill, (Courtney) Lawes, they all played in the World Cup final.
“So, they are an experienced team, they know what they have to do and what their DNA is to get results ... I think the core of that team is probably the team that beat New Zealand in the semi-final (of RWC 2019) and played against us in the final.”