Nine players from inaugural Vodacom URC champions, the DHL Stormers, and four players from runners up, the Vodacom Bulls, joined their national team-mates in Pretoria and got stuck into the action at training from Monday, and while Nienaber was excited to get down to business with an eye on next week’s Test against Wales at Loftus Versfeld, he said getting the squad aligned would be vital this week.
Vodacom URC final man-of-the-match Deon Fourie (flank), and the Players’ Player of the Tournament Evan Roos (No 8), as well as competition Ironman Ruan Nortje (lock) and hard-working flank Elrigh Louw (flank) were among the players who joined the national squad for the first time in the last few days.
“The Stormers and Bulls players have been with us for a-day-and-a-half now, and obviously the Stormers players have smiles on their faces and the Bulls players are disappointed, especially since it was a tightly contested final,” said Nienaber.
“The challenge for us going into the season is to get the balancing act right. As I’ve said before, we have a (selection) plan, and we’ll hopefully have three SA A games in November that will give us the opportunity to grow and develop some players.
“This will also be determined by results and injuries, but we are working hard as a team, and it is important that the players also take ownership of ensuring that they align with our structures as quickly as possible.”
Commenting on the quality of the players in the national squad, Nienaber said: “It speaks volumes for the depth we have available to us in South Africa, with Deon being man-of-the-match in the Vodacom URC final and Jasper (Wiese) in the Premiership.
“If one looks at the squad selected, it is certainly a feather in the cap for the national selectors, as the players are in form.
“The challenge for us is to make sure they are aligned with the national structures as quickly as possible after being with their franchises for quite some time, and the players will be responsible for that as our preparations continue.”
When quizzed about his selections for the Wales Tests, Nienaber said: “Some of the players have been with us for between 40 and 60 weeks dating back to 2018, and they are more familiar with the structures, calls and the way we do things, so it will be vital to bridge that gap between players who have been in the system for a while and those who are coming into the system now.”
Apart from being able to delve into more detailed aspects of their play with a bigger squad and player depth in most positions, Nienaber was pleased that they could get closer to switching into Test-match mode.
“While we had to be creative with training in the first two weeks of the camp because we didn’t have players in each position, we are now closer to having two full teams to train with, so we can switch our focus to more tactical aspects,” said the coach.
Nienaber concluded saying the fact that the Windhoek Draught Griquas and Airlink Pumas will contest the Carling Currie Cup final also shows the depth available in the franchises participating only in domestic competitions, and he said they would be keeping and eye on the match and the players’ performances when they battle it out for the trophy on Saturday.