Rassie Erasmus believes that the 6-2 bench selection tactic will improve the Springboks’ chances of beating Wales and peaking in the subsequent World Cup final. JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo reports.
Erasmus’ selections for the World Cup semi-final should come as no surprise. The Bok coach first favoured a 6-2 split on his bench for the third pool game against Italy in Shizuoka.
Three weeks ago, Erasmus explained that the inclusion of an extra forward would ensure that the Boks maintain their substantial physical effort for 80 minutes. He said that the selection of more forwards – 10 in the match-day 23 – would in fact ease the physical and mental workload on the individuals in the lead-up to playoffs.
At the end of the pool stage, it became clear that the Boks would face Japan in a quarter-final match played on a Sunday. If they managed to beat Japan, they would play one of Wales or France the following Sunday.
The final, though, would be staged six days after the penultimate game.
This is another reason why Erasmus has opted to manage his forwards carefully. On the one hand, the Boks can’t afford to hold anything back against Wales in Yokohama this weekend. On the other, the Bok coaching team has to be mindful of the short turnaround that could potentially scupper South Africa’s chances of peaking in the final.
‘I really hope that people don’t write this up the wrong way,’ the Bok coach said to the media in Shinjuku on Thursday. Erasmus explained that he didn’t want to come across as arrogant and that the South Africans are by no means presuming that they will beat Wales.
‘We’ve gone with a 6-2 split because it really spreads the load and helps the tight five to conserve energy,’ he said. ‘A lot of people think that it’s putting more pressure on your backline players but we’ve see with the GPS stats that the opposite is true. The forwards are taking the pressure off the backs.
‘The bench split will help if we manage to get to the final. There will be a six-day turnaround between the semi-final and final, and we have to consider managing the workload.
‘I suppose it will also help if there is a short turnaround between the semi-final and third-place playoff [if the Boks lose to Wales].’
Erasmus laughed when he was asked whether he had agonised over the decision to beef up his bench and gamble with only two backline reserves. He admitted that he had taken a few pills to calm his nerves.
‘It is definitely a bit of a chance we’re taking. We’ve worked out a few scenarios for emergencies. Frans Steyn and Herschel Jantjies are very versatile. Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am can play wing and Handre Pollard can play inside centre. Then we’ve got some contingency plans for using loose forwards in the backline in certain situations.’
The Bok coach explained that the extra forward on the bench will also boost the team’s defensive system in the second half.
‘Everybody sees the benefit of this tactic with the mauling, scrumming and physicality at the gainline, but we see it as having the opportunity to have a fresh tight five on the field for 80 minutes.
‘On defence it helps you to close up holes, which will help in a challenge against a well-organised and experienced Wales backline. They know how to exploit you when they are in your half. Having those extra six forwards will really lift our defensive system.’
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