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'We had a proper review, it was a tough week' - Nienaber praises his players after week of off-field controversy

The South Africa head coach said his squad had not been distracted by the Rassie Erasmus video released ahead of the second Test.

South Africa's Lukhanyo Am celebrates after scoring a try with Damian de Allende.
South Africa's Lukhanyo Am celebrates after scoring a try with Damian de Allende.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

SOUTH AFRICA HEAD coach Jacques Nienaber kept the focus on his winning Springbok team after an ill-tempered second Test in Cape Town capped a week of off-field controversy.

Asked for his opinion on the big refereeing calls in today’s game, Nienaber said Ben O’Keeffe was right not to send off Cheslin Kolbe during the first-half of the Springboks’ 27-9 defeat of the British and Irish Lions.

Kolbe was yellow-carded after colliding with Conor Murray in the air as the Lions scrum-half collected a high-ball, with Murray appearing to land on his face following the tackle.

However, Kolbe escaped a red card following a TMO review, with O’Keeffe deciding a yellow card was sufficient punishment.

Speaking after the game, Lions head coach Warren Gatland said the challenge “didn’t look great” – but Nienaber said he felt the officials got the decision right.

“I thought it was the right call. There’s a clear process that they follow when they go through foul play,” Nienaber said.

“It’s a clear process. I thought it was followed to the tee.”

Nienaber also shot down the idea that the controversial Rassie Erasmus video which dominated much of the build-up to the second Test was an unwanted distraction for the Springboks squad.

The hour-long video of Erasmus going through a selection of refereeing decisions from the opening Test provided another bizarre twist to what has been a strange Lions tour, but with the Springboks having levelled the series Nienaber said his players had never lost focus throughout the week.

“Rassie as our director of rugby had something on his mind, something that we discussed,” Nienaber said.

“That’s off-field stuff. We as a team knew that we had to focus on rugby and hats off to the players. We had a proper review, it was a tough week in terms of that because we were hard on each other. 

“Last time when I sat here, when someone said something about Kwagga (Smith) I said (in the review) I probably hung him out to dry. That’s how our review works. It’s not just players, it’s coaches as well.

“Sometimes we get things wrong and sometimes we get it right, but we put our hand up and say ‘Listen, I made a mistake there, I think we should have done it differently.’

“So we just focus on rugby and the stuff that we can control. That’s basically what we did. The other stuff is off-field stuff and that was handled by our director of rugby. That was off-field, and our main focus was on-field.

“The players in our leadership group are very experienced, and we are in a fortunate position as coaches to have so many of them,” he added.

“Last week we lost the kicking game in the second half and the way the players responded during the week to adjust and make better decisions was really great. Sometimes I feel more like a facilitator than a coach with all the great inputs we receive from the guys.”

And after a dominant second-half performance in the Cape Town Stadium today, Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said the hosts won’t be ripping up the script ahead of the series decider next Saturday.

“Nothing will change for us,” Kolisi said.

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“We’ve just got to do things better. The set-piece, try and win more of our balls and gain more dominance in the scrums and work harder off the ball and (try) control the kicking game.

“We’re not going to change much I think, but we’ll see how the weeks goes. I’m sure the coaches will have a couple of tricks, but all the controllables we’re going to try and control better.”

Nienaber also admitted that Pieter-Steph du Toit could be an injury concern for the third Test having come off with an injury during the first half.

“I haven’t seen Pieter-Steph come off a lot, but there is no detailed assessment as yet. It will probably be 48 hours before we get a full diagnosis.

“Once we’ve had all those checks done we’ll have a proper idea. But yeah, he’s not normally someone who comes off for nothing.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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