Nienaber says South Africa ready to host Covid-hit Championship

·3-min read
South Africa centre Lukhanyo Am (2L) runs with the ball during the Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha on Saturday

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber said on Saturday he would welcome the rest of the coronavirus-hit Rugby Championship being played in South Africa.

Speaking after South Africa's 29-10 second-round win over Argentina at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), Nienaber said the Springboks were "ready to play anywhere".

But he said he would "love" to play the rest of his team's fixtures at home following SA Rugby's offer to host the remainder of the tournament.

The fixtures were thrown into disarray on Friday when New Zealand pulled out of an away game against Australia, scheduled for Perth next Saturday, because of new Covid-19 restrictions.

New Zealand have also said they cannot host either Argentina or South Africa, both of whom were due to play there twice.

"It would be good for our country," said Nienaber. "We just came through a British and Irish Lions series.

"South Africa showed that in a pandemic they can host a tournament that is the next biggest thing to a World Cup.

"South Africa is ready. We've got the protocols in place and we've got everything lined up."

Other possibilities include moving the remaining nine matches to other Australian venues or to Europe, with speculation that Cardiff, Dublin, London and Paris could stage double-headers.

Both Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi said they did not know what was in store over the coming weeks following the cancellation of their planned flight to Australia on Sunday because of the Covid situation.

"This game was important to us and that has been our focus. We'll probably find out later in the week. Other than that I know nothing," said Kolisi.

- Sixth Test -

Nienaber said he was disappointed that the Springboks could not gain a bonus point for scoring at least three tries more than Argentina, but pointed out that it was effectively a sixth Test in as many weeks for his players.

"This game was massive for us," said the coach. "The players were challenged massively by themselves during the week.

"If you take the South Africa A game against the Lions, then three Test matches against the Lions and now two tough matches against a well-coached Argentina side, it is seldom you play six Test matches on the trot."

He said the Springboks' game management was excellent for the first hour of the match but admitted they had lost cohesion in the final quarter when all the replacement players were on the field.

"We would have loved to get the bonus point, but we wanted to give guys game time.

"Our strategic goal will always be to win games and defend the Rugby Championship, but looking ahead to (the next World Cup in) 2023 we made changes to get broader experience in the squad."

Although the Springboks prided themselves on their defence, Nienaber said he did not mind conceding a try six minutes after the full-time hooter.

"I'm not disappointed," he said. "We were going full blast for the bonus point."

South Africa had to play with 14 men from the 72nd minute because replacement scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse was injured after they used all eight substitutes.

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