Rassie Erasmus’ gamble to back six forwards on the Springbok bench will pay off against Japan and later in the tournament, writes JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo.
Two weeks ago, I asked the Bok coach why he’d opted for a 6-2 split on the bench ahead of the crucial pool match against Italy. Erasmus explained that the selections were made with the Italy clash as well as the short turnaround before the Canada game in mind.
The move seemed unnecessary. I wondered aloud if Erasmus may have done better to rest one of those heavies and whether going into such an important game with only two players to cover the backline positions was such a good idea.
The gamble paid off, though, as the Bok pack destroyed Italy and then Canada. Erasmus spread the forward workload over the course of those two matches – in terms of minutes played rather than games played – to ensure that all of the players were fresh yet match-sharp heading into the playoffs.
On Thursday, Erasmus confirmed that six forwards will ride the bench when the Boks face Japan in the World Cup quarter-final. It’s a gamble that could pay off big in Sunday’s game and – assuming that the Boks progress – in next week’s semi-final against Wales or France.
The Boks look set to maximise their forward power against a well-organised yet physically limited Japan side. The pack picked to start will target Japan’s scrum and maul. While the Brave Blossoms have improved at the set pieces in recent years, they may not have the muscle to cope with a relentless and accurate South African assault.
Erasmus would have noted how Japan tired in the latter stages of the recent match against Scotland. That battle would have taken its toll on the hosts, mentally as well as physically, and they may struggle to live with the Bok pack in the second stanza this Sunday – especially if Erasmus deploys six fresh forwards from the bench.
As was the case against Italy, there is a chance that the move will backfire. It appears a risk that Erasmus is willing to take.
Erasmus will need to be creative with his substitutions if the Boks sustain two or more backline injuries this Sunday. We may even see one of the aforementioned heavies running in the backline. That scenario would limit the potency of the backs as well as the forwards.
The move may benefit the Boks ahead of the semi-final, though. As was the case in the period between the Italy and Canada games, Erasmus may want to manage the workload of his forwards while still giving the game time ahead of the World Cup semi-final.
The result against Japan is by no means a given and neither Erasmus nor the players should be holding anything back.
The makeup of the bench, however, could boost the Boks in the short and long term, and ultimately improve their chances of peaking in a World Cup final.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 16, 2019
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images