Cape Town – It was quite jarring to see Damian Willemse suddenly relieved of the goal-kicking duties against Ireland after his first missed shot at goal.
The Springbok flyhalf had slotted his first penalty to draw his team level at 3-3 after nine minutes in Dublin, but after pushing his second attempt to the right in the 21st minute, Willemse didn’t line up another shot.
Instead, fullback Cheslin Kolbe stepped up to the tee for the rest of the match, but landed only one out of three, which proved costly as the Boks went down 19-16.
Now Kolbe – who has moved to right wing again – has been retained as the No 1 sharp-shooter for Saturday night’s blockbuster outing against France in Marseille (10pm SA time kickoff), even though Willemse is still in the No 10 jersey.
Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus insisted during a press conference on Friday that the coaches were not the ones who made the decision to change goal-kickers at the Aviva Stadium, and that a similar process would follow at the Stade Velodrome.
“There are some guys… Sometimes when Morné Steyn plays, (Chris) Smith is kicking for goals. I’ve seen many times when Elton Jantjies was playing (for the Lions), that flyhalf (Marnitz Boshoff) kicked for poles…” Erasmus said.
“Sometimes there are small little things – it can be a dip, it can be a kicking style. It’s certainly not that we go into a game and then say, ‘Hey, you’re kicking bad… we’re taking you off and the other guy’s kicking’.
“It’s a considered, measured thing where the guys agree. And normally when we… the changes happen on that field. It’s not us as the coaches who decide who kicks now and who doesn’t kick. We don’t decide whether they must kick to the touchline or not from a penalty.
“So, it’s actually confidence, rhythm… it might be a small little niggle sometimes. We definitely don’t tell a guy ‘You are kicking bad. You are not the kicker today’.
“So, it’s more about adults working together and deciding what is the best (plan). Hopefully on Monday, when Cheslin slots five out of five, we will all be happy and say it was a good decision.
Captain Siya Kolisi was seated alongside Erasmus, and will hope that Kolbe can find the target.
Otherwise, if the Boks don’t want to turn to Willemse again, they can call on Stormers star Manie Libbok, who is in line for a Test debut off the bench.
Erasmus also spoke about the lack of a kicking coach in the management team when actually answering a question about the Boks’ failure to finish numerous opportunities on attack against Ireland.
“The first thing: it’s definitely not nerves or pressure that we put on the guys. The skill-sets that we get from the guys, where they are all over the world… Even going to the kicking game, I hear a lot of people saying ‘Get a kicking coach, get a kicking coach’. But if we get a guy in with us for about 10 games, and then the other 42 weeks of the year, he is with his provincial or franchise kicking coach,” the former loose forward said.
“So, to try and change a guy’s kicking style when he’s with us doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Obviously we do also work on a lot of fundamentals, which include finishing opportunities.
“I guess that’s the negative, that we didn’t (finish opportunities) – you’re 100 percent right. I guess the positive is that with everything that went wrong, having three flyhalves being injured, and Damian having some responsibility going through those pressure situations – and the same with Cheslin…
“And this weekend with Manie, with kicking and with finishing opportunities… The only way you get it right at Test level – as you saw last night with the SA A team – the moment you put on that jersey, there is extra pressure, there are new expectations and the guys only learn through experience.
“The nice thing is, we know we are going through things now, and it was the same in 2018 – the only difference is that we are four or three in the world, probably have more World Cup league points, and we know that the Irish team – who are number one – is in our pool… And there was a chance that we could have beaten them.
“So, we are working on all those things. But the nice thing about the World Cup is that we are almost having a pre-season to work really hard on fundamentals. At this stage, you trust that you get a certain skill-set, and we as coaches must give them confidence and a plan, and help them to finish those opportunities that we did create.
“So, confidence, and then repetition – I guess that’s the only way.”