Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was quick to brush off the team’s kicking woes, after they only converted two of their five kicks at goal, which proved costly in a tight three point loss against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday night.
Bok flyhalf Damian Willemse is only the third choice kicker at his franchise team, the Stormers, behind Manie Libbok and Sacha Mngomezulu, who are both in the national squad on the end-of-year-tour.
The back-up kicker in the Bok match 23 for the Irish match was fullback Cheslin Kolbe, who himself is not a recognised kicker and took over the kicking duties after Willemse missed his second shot at goal, a relatively easy penalty that he pushed well wide of the target.
However it was a strange decision to swap kickers at that stage, as the penalty on the stroke of halftime was dead in front of the poles, which Kolbe popped over, before he then missed both his conversion attempts in the second half, the first of which struck the uprights and bounced wide.
The Boks weren’t the only ones to miss some shots at goal, as Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton also missed two conversions, but both were from the touchline, with the second one shaving the uprights, however he slotted three penalties including the all-important long ranger in the 73rd minute which sealed the win.
“Most people who look back on this game will probably say it was the difference between the two sides. Jonny missed a kick or two too, but he nailed the big ones. We missed a couple and that’s definitely something we’ll keep working on,” said Nienaber.
“We’re working on it. We and the players measure their goal kicking, so they know at what percentage they’re kicking at during the week.
“It’s tough. In some instances a miss is actually a kick that hits the posts. It is what it is. None of the goal kickers go out there to miss a goal.”
Nienaber continued: “Johnny didn’t try to miss his first conversion. But the key is he nailed the big ones and we didn’t. I’ll never blame a player for that. They must just keep working on it, which they are.”
Despite the close 19-16 loss, Nienaber believes the Boks did enough to win the match, but didn’t take their opportunities when presented, which was the difference in the end in a game of few chances.
“One obviously wants to win every game you play, but the reality is that we played against Ireland away in front of a capacity crowd at the Aviva Stadium, and we lost by just three points,” said Nienaber.
“We had opportunities that we didn’t capitalise on, but we’ll take the learnings from this match and fix that which we have to next week.”