What makes the famed Springboks bomb squad work is not having six forwards in the eight but rather who those forwards are, writes Oliver Keohane.
The absence of lineout maestro Lood De Jager is a huge loss for the Springboks, and retaining three loose forwards on their bench is not a comforting contingency plan.
A disclaimer before I get into the thick of things, I wrote last week:
…a Springbok bench that allows for Jasper Wiese, Marco Van Staden and Kwagga Smith. What other team in world rugby has the luxury of a full set of loose forward replacements?
A week later and it’s fair to say that it is a luxury that could be argued the Springboks cannot afford. Among the issues of kicking accuracy, discipline and defensive composure, what stood out for me was the obvious lack of impact in replacing the entire Springbok back row.
This is not to say that any of the replacements were notably poor, but the obsession with a 6-2 bench split seems to be outweighing the obvious fact that its potency is when there are two locks running onto the field at 60 minutes. Two sets of fresh legs at lock impacts the set piece significantly more than any loose forward replacement can. Scrum dominance is predominately determined by the tight five, as are the lineouts. Moving Franco Mostert to lock after 60 grueling minutes at flank, to make way for a replacement loose forward, can in no way be nearly as effective as bringing Mostert on at lock in a straight swap for the starting lock.
I understand that the situation is far from ideal, with Lood De Jager, RG Snyman and Nicolaas Janse Van Rensburg unavailable, but the onus is on the Springboks to adapt. The retention of three loose forwards on the bench overlooks the fact that the locking department was a serious worry when Lood went down last week, and it also seemingly doesn’t acknowledge the need for a back up goal kicker.
Opting for a 5-3 bench split, with Morne Steyn or Elton Jantjies joining Damian Willemse and Herschel Jantjies on the bench, while Dan Du Preez comes in as a lock replacement, for me makes much more sense than having a set of replacements who are essentially all specialist players. Bar Kwagga Smith, who plays across the back row, Wiese is an out and out No 8 and Marco Van Staden is a specialist openside. None of the three can play lock, and I am baffled by the selections.
If the need is so strong to select six forwards in the bench, then why not start Mostert at lock, and move Van Staden in to start at flank. Marvin Orie could then come on to provide fresh legs at lock, and Mostert could move out to the flank later on in the game, where the set piece work is far less demanding.
The Springboks have to win on Saturday, and I believe they will, but I don’t think they will be winning because of the structure of those who make up the six forwards replacement.
The rugby science behind the original Bok bomb squad six forwards and two backs split seems to have gone amiss in the last two weeks and has lost its original identity of a power house front row, two specialist locks and a versatile loose-forward.
Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Francois Louw and a potent front row at the World Cup is a very different prospect to Wiese, Van Staden, Smith and a potent front row.
On the surface, the changes are minimal from the match day 23 that should have won the first Test, but the dynamic in those changes are significant.
🇿🇦 Continuity in selection for the second Test against Australia
✅ Nyakane and Orie to start in Brisbane
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