Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber on Monday preached caution when it came to reading too much into how the Bulls’ shock hammering in the Rainbow Cup final could translate into the fortunes of the national team against the British and Irish Lions.
The Bulls, the dominant force in South African domestic rugby, played against Benetton in Treviso at the weekend and were thrashed 35-8 by a team that is certainly not considered to be one of the powerhouses of Europe.
But Nienaber preferred to focus on the positive of local players gaining experience of what playing against teams from the Northern Hemisphere is like.
“I can’t comment on the Bulls’ plans because I don’t have insight into those, but Rassie Erasmus and I have said in the past that the Rainbow Cup is a good competition, not watered down like some people think,” Nienaber said from Bloemfontein, where the Boks are preparing for the international season, on Monday.
“There are no weak teams and you have to have your ducks in a row. It’s a bit different to what we are used to; it’s a lot more tactical with every country being different.
“But club rugby does not always show the strength of your national set-up; like in 2019 none of our Super Rugby franchises made the final, so there’s no direct link to the Springboks, either positive or negative.
“But why we were so keen from a national point of view to get our teams into that competition is because you have to adapt week-in, week-out to different teams, styles of play, coaches and weather.
“It’s like in the World Cup when we had to adapt from playing Japan to playing Wales.”
As the alignment phase of the national camp neared completion with next week being a Test week ahead of the match against Georgia on July 2 at Loftus Versfeld, Nienaber said this week provides an opportunity for the squad to bank some conditioning work.
“We’ve been getting everyone aligned in terms of our lingo and strategy, and now it’s time to raise the intensity,” Nienaber said.
“It’s an important week, the last week before Test week, and we can put a nice load on the players with an additional focus on conditioning. We just have to get used to the international rugby game again – the pace and physicality.
“It’s going to be a tough ask though for Cheslin Kolbe and Rynhardt Elstadt to play against Georgia next week because they play in the French Top 14 final this weekend and then they have their second Covid vaccination on Sunday before flying here on Monday, arriving maybe Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s enough time for them to prepare and get back into our way of playing,” added the Bok coach about the star Toulouse duo.