Nienaber impressed with Ireland's defence

Nienaber impressed with Ireland's defence

Jacques Nienaber has singled out Ireland's defence as a trump card ahead of a potential World Cup quarter-final meeting with South Africa.

That's no surprise.

Nienaber is, after all, the man in charge of the Springboks' defensive duties but he had good reason to be so taken by Ireland's efforts in that department against Scotland in the opening round given Gregor Townsend's team failed to score a try.

Add in the last warm-up game, against Wales at Lansdowne Road, and Joe Schmidt's side have conceded just one five-pointer across the last 160-plus minutes. Not bad for a team that shipped eight to England in Twickenham last month.

Scotland targeted Ireland out wide, tempted by their own attacking bias and the perception that the 2018 Grand Slam champions have a tendency to present too narrow a front. It did them little good with their penchant to run for space actually leaving ball carriers isolated at times.

Joe Schmidt all but said as much yesterday.

"We watched it on laptops on the train so it wasn't with a clinical eye on it,” said Nienaber. “But if you look at last year, and you look at the defence of international teams, I think Ireland and Wales conceded like 1.2 tries a match, around about 15 points a game.

“So, depending on what metric you look at, they were probably the stingiest defences,” Nienaber explained. “Obviously they are a phenomenal defensive unit. They only conceded three points on Sunday, so they were solid as rock as always.”

Japan have made similar noises to Scotland about the opportunities Ireland might offer for them out by the touchlines. They did manage to record five tries against Ireland across two tests in 2017 but conceded a dozen.

As for South Africa, they weren't exactly porous in their opener. The All Blacks failed to make it past their sticks for all but three minutes of the Pool B showdown in Yokohama, a stat somewhat undermined by the fact that New Zealand claimed two tries inside that 180 seconds.

It was still an impressive display and statement of intent by the Springboks who were slightly surprised by the amount of times New Zealand kicked. If anything, that may have been the perfect preparation for what is likely to be a last-eight meeting with the Irish.

Nienaber agreed and said as much to his head coach.

"I told Rassie (Erasmus), it is almost a benefit having a semi-final type of game in your pool. I thought we learned a lot out of it and I know it's a cliche because everyone says that when you lose but, yes, we did. For us, it was a great match in terms of tactical, physical, getting challenged on all departments.

“Mentally, the build up during the week, the enormity of the game, the physical, the speed of the game. You know if you play the All Blacks and you make two errors it is 14 points. We made three consecutively and it was 17 points. So it was nice to play a game like that where you know that there is that much pressure that if you do make a mistake, they will probably punish you, which they did.”

Nienaber's preparation for a potential showdown with Ireland began, unknowingly at the time, with his stint alongside Erasmus at Munster and he reminisced fondly about his time there this week as the Boks prepared for their meeting with Namibia.

Even the weather was remembered affectionately, the sight of some players crowding around a warm tap in the dressing-rooms in the Sportsground at half-time during a PRO14 game in December eliciting a particularly loud chuckle.

And that spell in Limerick has served another purpose in a roundabout way with Felix Jones finally being co-opted onto the Bok brains trust where he has been working on both sides of the ball and with players on an individual basis.

“The same old same old Felix that I knew then,” said Nienaber. “As Rassie said, he has got a good work ethic and is always good for a joke or a craic, as you would say in Ireland. We'd like to get him walking on a beer but he is pretty focused. He is the same guy that I worked with then.”

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