CAPE TOWN, Dec 14 (Reuters) – Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber believes the imminent entrance of South Africa’s leading franchises into the PRO14 competition will be timely as they contemplate meeting Ireland and Scotland in their first round pool at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
The world champion Boks, who have not played since they lifted the Webb Ellis trophy in Japan over a year ago, were drawn in Pool B on Monday and have what looks a tricky start to the defence of their title, with a Pacific Island nation and European minnow also to be part of the group.
But their obvious threat will come from Ireland and Scotland, and the fact that the top South African teams are likely to start playing in the PRO14, or an expanded PRO16, from next season against clubs from those countries will be excellent preparation, according to Nienaber.
“It will be a big step for us and our local franchises. Super Rugby is a bit different, so it will be a big step up for them in terms of the tactics, weather, playing surfaces and refereeing,” he told reporters.
“I am not talking down other competitions, but it (PRO14) is very similar to Test rugby in nature.”
Nienaber took over as head coach following the Boks’ 2019 World Cup win and was very much the right-hand man to Rassie Erasmus, who has since returned to his director of rugby role.
South Africa will likely face one of New Zealand or hosts France in the quarter-finals, but Nienaber is not thinking that far ahead.
“I think if you look at our pool and quality there, the Asia/Pacific one could be Tonga or Samoa, I think it probably wouldn’t be right to think about the quarter-finals and knockout rugby,” he said.
“You will need to be on top of your game just to get out of the pool. So from our position, we will just focus on building a proper squad with good experience.
“It’s funny to think that one of either South Africa, Ireland or Scotland will not make it to the playoffs. So it’s going to be a tough pool, but we are very much looking forward to it.” (Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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