The Bok seven forwards and a specialist scrumhalf substitutes bench to play Ireland is not a risk. Even an eight forwards split is not a risk. This is a coaching team absolutely understanding they have an advantage no other team has at the World Cup in having the tournament’s two best packs in one squad, writes Mark Keohane.
Ireland will regret omitting Jean Kleyn in the Andy Farrell era. Kleyn, the former Stormers lock, joined Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber at Munster eight years ago, and on residential qualification got picked for Ireland. He played in the 2019 World Cup in Japan but did not feature for Ireland when Joe Schmidt left and Andy Farrell took over as head coach.
Kleyn has consistently been outstanding for Munster. In last season’s URC he played nearly every match and averaged 74 minutes a match. He was gold to Erasmus and Nienaber when Ireland saw no further need for him, and to further illustrate the folly of his Ireland omission he combined with Bok RG Snyman in Munster’s stunning URC final win against the Stormers in Cape Town.
Kleyn and Snyman were named among the power pack on the bench. The two best locks in Irish domestic rugby will be what the Bok coaches turn to for the final 30 minutes in Paris. It is a very comforting position for the Bok coaching duo of Erasmus and Nienaber, but they have made their own comfort in identifying the potential to develop two world class packs and play 15 of the 16 in a match 23.
Erasmus and Nienaber were deemed innovative at the 2019 World Cup in picking six forwards, a specialist scrumhalf and a utility back in their match 23s. Four years later they have improved dramatically on this innovation with trusting seven forwards to have enough quality on the bench that some can cover in the backs.
The Boks match 23 in the 35-7 demolition of the All Blacks at Twickenham featured seven forwards and one back on the bench. It worked a treat.
Ireland will never fold as meekly as the All Blacks did. This a damn fine Irish team, whose players have consistently been the best in international rugby over the past 24 months. But the Irish, while blessed with a particularly impressive run-on XV, don’t have the same cattle warming the wood.
Malcolm Marx is a huge loss for the Boks and Deon Fourie, a fine loose-forward, can’t be compared to Marx as a Test hooker. Fourie brings a different skill set, as does back up loose-forward Marco van Staden, who can also be used to do a job at hooker.
I thought Erasmus would go with an 8/0 split for a play-off match that will give the victor confidence, but won’t define the outcome of the title. The quarter-final opposition for South Africa and Ireland remains the same, one of hosts France or three-time champions New Zealand.
To win the World Cup, a team has to knock one or both over at some stage.
This hit out for the Boks is a dry run for the play-offs.
It worked against the All Blacks and if its works against Ireland, well then they’ve nailed it as a coaching staff.
There is cover in every position in the pack and in the backs Cobus Reinach covers nine and on the wing, fullback Damian Willemse covers wing, midfield and No 10, Damian de Allende can be shifted one out to No 13, outside centre Jesse Kriel can shift to the wing or fullback and wingers Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe have both played fullback, while Kolbe can also slot in at flyhalf. Faf de Klerk can also cover No 10.
That is how Erasmus and Nienaber would have viewed the versatility of the match 23.
Duane Vermeulen’s omission from the 23 is a surprise, given his knowledge of Ulster’s players, but perhaps he is being managed for the play-offs. Jasper Wiese, who has alternated with Vermeulen, gets the starting No 8 role, Kwagga Smith gets the back-up loose-forward utility role and he is also capable of covering at wing. Van Staden had to be there to add more insurance cover for Fourie’s second half exploits as a hooker.
There will be pressure on hooker Bongi Mbonambi to play close to an hour, when, for the past four years, he has averaged 30 minutes a Test, with Marx averaging 50, but the collective pressure is going to be on the Irish pack that finishes the match and not necessarily the one tasked with starting.
Ireland, the world’s No 1 team will feel the heat this week, especially when fronted with a Bok coaching team that, by choice, omitted Vermeulen, Handre Pollard, Willie le Roux, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Vincent Koch and Canan Moodie. Add the injured trio of Lukhanyo Am, Malcolm Marx and Lood de Jager, and it says everything about the quality of the Bok squad tasked to defend the world title won in Japan in 2019.