Vincent Koch says the spirit of the ‘Bomb Squad’ and clear direction from the Springbok coaches made the experience at last year’s World Cup extremely special, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In a wide-ranging interview, Koch spoke to SARugbymag.co.za on his return to England, where he has recently rejoined Saracens as preparations begin for the resumption of the Premiership.
After spending the majority of lockdown back in South Africa, the 30-year-old said he was looking forward to getting back into training, despite expecting it to be quite a challenge after weeks of relatively limited activity.
Having also had the opportunity to reflect on his journey with the Springboks after first receiving a call-up under the Rassie Erasmus-led team back in 2018, Koch said the experience was one of a kind.
‘When Rassie gave us [overseas-based players] the opportunity to come back after the 30-cap rule fell away, it felt like a second chance. We had a good meeting with him beforehand and he just asked one simple question: “Do you still have a desire to put on the Springbok jersey?” He felt it was important to not see it as just another cap, but to really play for the jersey again, and that just made excited for the whole journey.
‘There were so many world-class players, and in my position there was a lot of competition for places, so it was tough. But the plan was very clear from the start, and we all bought into that, which I think was something I hadn’t really experienced on that level at the Springboks. Everyone was just focused on the job at hand, and I think we established a brand of rugby that everyone enjoyed watching, and I think the game plan really worked well and the future of the Springboks looks bright again.’
After a well-versed period of Springbok resurgence, Koch earned selection for the World Cup squad, but looked likely to primarily provide back-up to Frans Malherbe and Trevor Nyakane, with that duo featuring as the tighthead-prop options for the opening match of the tournament against the All Blacks.
Yet, a competition-ending injury to Nyakane effectively elevated Koch into a crucial role as a member of the Bomb Squad of bench players.
As part of Erasmus’ game plan, these players were empowered to play a crucial role in maintaining the intensity of play, with the front row in particular often being entirely substituted early in the second half.
The effectiveness of this strategy was most aptly evidenced in the final, with Malherbe and Beast Mtawarira coming off in the 44th minute after a destructive performance at scrum time. In turn, Koch and Steven Kitshoff came on and picked up where they had left off, earning yet another penalty in their very first scrum.
‘I think Rassie definitely took a chance picking a six-two bench, and it’s not something you seen very often,’ Koch commented. ‘But we stuck to the plan, and the main thought process was that the tight five is likely to be the group that gets tired quickest. So, we had the strategy to come on when that happened.
‘It’s always nice knowing that you’re going to go on … but I don’t think there was a lot of stress or pressure on us. We knew exactly what to do, when we ran on [in the final]. Steven Kitshoff and I just said, “Listen, let’s go finish this job.”’
*The full feature with Koch will appear in the next issue of SA Rugby magazine