The Springboks’ 6-2 bench split doesn’t have universal support, but it seems like the only way Rassie Erasmus’ team will beat England in the World Cup final, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
A bomb squad, in real terms, are people who rely on subtlety and a cautious approach to try to prevent disaster. They are highly trained technicians with nerves of steel. They essentially make life-saving calls when they are called out to do their job.
The Springbok ‘bomb squad’ (nickname for the bench players), on the other hand, are hardly subtle and definitely not cautious. They are highly trained in the art of pain, and it’s their muscles that are made of steel. They also don’t prevent disaster. Creating anarchy is their main job description.
The Springbok pack has been nothing short of spectacular at this World Cup. The bench players have received most of the plaudits, but the starters also deserve a lot of praise.
It was another 14-man effort in the semi-final against Wales, with the eight starting forwards and the six guys off the bench simply overpowering their opponents. It’s been called the Boks’ ‘slow poison’, with the starters softening up their opponents before the ‘bomb squad’ comes to finish them off.
Wales couldn’t live with the Boks’ forwards, especially facing two different packs in each half.
For 40-0dd minutes the starters poured their heart and souls on to the pitch, before the bench players came on and did the same. It means that the work rate of the pack, especially the guys with the small numbers on their backs, never drops.
There is no time for the opposition forwards to have a break. It’s a relentless onslaught that last the full 80 minutes.
The Boks’ starting tight five made an incredible 42 tackles in the first half. Most of those tackles were also dominant hits around the fringes, which left the Welsh with absolutely no momentum from which to attack in the Boks’ half.
Lood de Jager made an incredible 13 tackles in 57 minutes, while fellow lock Eben Etzebeth hit nine players. The front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe made six tackles each in the 47 minutes they were on the pitch.
But then came the bomb squad …
Props Vincent Koch and Steven Kitshoff came off the bench and made nine tackles each in 33 minutes. It’s difficult to comprehend, but these are the cold, hard facts. Franco Mostert, RG Snyman and Malcolm Marx then made another 15 tackles between them, while they also forced a maul and scrum penalty at the end that helped the Boks close out the game.
The Boks’ attack is blunt at the moment. Their tries at this World Cup have come from through the forwards or moments of individual brilliance, such as Damian de Allende’s try in the second half against Wales.
Their attack has as much structure as a pre-school play date, and it’s been their pack that has come to the party in a big way. And it looks like it’s South Africa’s biggest hope of causing an upset over England, whose all-round game was something to behold in their semi-final against the All Blacks.
The England forwards were clinical and efficient against New Zealand. They also carried the ball with a lot of intelligence and venom, mixing bulldozing runs with a couple of smart offloads in the tackle.
But they face the best pack in the world on Saturday. They face 14 men who play with a Springbok on their jersey, and with the predatory instincts of a lion in their hearts.
This begs the question if Eddie Jones is pondering fighting fire with fire and having a 6-2 split of his own for Saturday’s final. It’s must be something that is in the back of his mind, especially as the Boks are unlikely to deviate from their unspectacular plan of attack.
Interestingly enough, the Boks are only naming their team on Thursday after basically doing it on a Wednesday for a Saturday clash throughout the course of this year. Jones would have loved that extra day to finalise his squad after seeing what the Boks come up with.
But one thing is for sure. The Bok fowards are the boogeymen of the World Cup and they are going to give England and their coach a few sleepless nights ahead of the final.