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'Brilliant': Springboks talk bomb squad, decision to back Willemse

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

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Amid the fallout following last weekend’s defeat for the Springboks on the Gold Coast was much debate amongst their supporters for a reconfiguration of their replacements bench bomb squad as well as whether to continue with Damian Willemse as a sub. This was after Quade Cooper’s last-gasp penalty secured the Wallabies a two-point win in round three of the Rugby Championship. 


The selection of a bench containing six forwards and just two backs has generally been a strength of the Springboks, the bruising physicality and added energy of their sub forwards becoming an important factor in their gallop to their 2019 World Cup success. It’s a tactic they have mostly persisted with since their return to the Test rugby fold in July this year.

It helped them to clinch the series versus the Lions and assisted them in getting off to a promising start in the Championship versus Argentina. However, last Sunday’s defeat to the Wallabies was particularly painful, sparking conversations about the value of having so many forwards which limits the number of the backline alternatives on the bench.

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Michael Cheika discusses whether the Wallabies can beat the Springboks two weekends in succession
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Michael Cheika discusses whether the Wallabies can beat the Springboks two weekends in succession

The Springboks had veteran Morne Steyn on the bench for the decisive third Lions Test and he came off it to strike the winning penalty, but this was something that proved beyond Willemse when he came into last Sunday’s fray following an off day for Handre Pollard off the tee. Despite this outcome, South Africa have stuck with their six/two bench split and have kept faith in Willemse, but assistant coach Mzwandile Stick insisted there was a selection debate and the issues weren’t ignored.    

“It’s a week in, week out story when it comes to team selection,” he explained ahead of a rematch where the Springboks have made two changes to their XV, benching Steven Kitshoff for Trevor Nyakane and including Marvin Orie for the concussed Lood de Jager. “When we select it is something where there is always massive debate, so it’s something this week that we had to debate, having a six/two split on the bench or five/three. 

“That is something that we as coaches go pound for pound in the boardroom when it comes to selection. It is nothing new to us as coaches. Handre didn’t have his best game but we didn’t lose the game only because of that. The discipline was what let us down mostly on the day. Handre has been brilliant for us, probably since 2018, when he is always up there but we are all human beings, sometimes you are going to have an off day but it is not only up to him. We as a team had to make sure we looked at ourselves and also the coaching staff and the leadership to make sure that we turned things around. 


“And with Damian Willemse, we all know that Damian is a brilliant player, a brilliant player, and he has got a lot of days coming in his future,” continued the Springboks assistant. “He will get better and we didn’t lose the game because of the guys that were kicking at the posts. That is something that we as coaches understand and it’s one of the main things why we had continuity in our team selection. We believe in our six/two split on the bench and it worked for us before so there is no reason for us to doubt it and panic. Hopefully this week things will go well and the result will be on our side.”


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