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Nienaber: Why Springboks have diffused their World Cup bomb squad

By Liam Heagney

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Jacques Nienaber has explained why the Springboks have diffused their successful World Cup bomb squad tactic and reverted to a replacements bench of five forwards and three backs to take on the Lions this Saturday rather than stick with the six/two split that paid rich dividends 20 months ago in Japan.

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Beaten in their World Cup opener by the All Blacks having used a five/three bench split, the Springboks opted to go with a six-two divide for their four other huge matches en route to glory, the pool win over Italy followed by the successes against Japan, Wales and England in the knockout stages.

The bench didn’t change for any of those four matches as Herschel Jantjies and Frans Steyn were the two backs to provide cover along with the same half-dozen forwards – Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert and Francois Louw – coming on to help physically dominate their opponents.

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Tadhg Furlong talks about the Lions’ scrum and what to expect from the Springboks next weekend
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Tadhg Furlong talks about the Lions’ scrum and what to expect from the Springboks next weekend

Nienaber was never in the position to select the entire same replacements bench to start this Lions series 20 months later. Back-rower Louw has retired from playing, Koch tested positive for Covid, Snyman has been on a cruel run with injuries, while Mostert has a place secured in the starting team.

However, the new head coach could have replicated the same six/two forwards/backs split and heaped the pressure on the Lions pack for the closing 30 minutes by having a half-dozen forwards enter the fray, Nienaber eventually ruled against it for fear the Springboks could be caught short in their backs.

Along with Herschel Jantjies, Nienaber has chosen Elton Jantjies and Damian Willemse to provide backs cover, leaving him with just five forwards in reserve on this occasion – regulars Marx and Kitshoff, 2019 final starters Frans Malherbe and Lood de Jager along with versatile back-rower Rynhardt Elstadt. Explaining the logic of his five/three decision, the Springboks head coach said: “Obviously we will go with a six/two split if it’s available to us, but Handre (Pollard) hasn’t been involved in a lot of rugby.

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“He has just come back from Covid. (Makazole) Mapimpi is the same, so we just thought it’s not the right time to go with just two backs on the bench. The thing about a six-two split, if it is available and we are comfortable with it we will go with a six/two split, but we felt in this specific game it wasn’t an opportunity for us.

“Rynhardt Elstadt does provide us with that (flexibility) luxury to go with the six/two split and it’s maybe something we will look at going with in the future, but circumstances and players available and roles that they need to fulfil, maybe some players carrying a niggle and you are not 100 per cent sure or confident they would last the 80 minutes, then you don’t go with a six/two split.”

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Nienaber: Why Springboks have diffused their World Cup bomb squad

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