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Schalk Burger responds to 'broken record' criticism of Bok tactics

By Josh Raisey
South Africa's lock RG Snyman (4th L), South Africa's Salmaan Moerat (C), South Africa's Vincent Koch (3rd R) walk on the field as replacements during the first Rugby Union test match between South Africa and Ireland at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria on July 6, 2024. (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP)

South Africa great Schalk Burger has fired back at the critics of how the Springboks use their substitutes.


Rassie Erasmus decided to deploy all six forward substitutes in one fell swoop on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld as the world champions defeated Ireland. The six new players came on after 49 minutes and began to gain supremacy up front, culminating in a scrum penalty try in the closing minutes of the match.

Ever since the Springboks started deploying a 6-2 split on the bench, and latterly a 7-1 split, their most vocal critic has been former coach turned pundit Matt Williams, despite the fact that plenty of other teams have also used the 6-2 split since then.

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Jaco Peyper on TMO in Boks win over Ireland

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Jaco Peyper on TMO in Boks win over Ireland

The Australian has been at it again this week following South Africa’s victory, saying the Boks’ use of the ‘Bomb Squad’ is “not what our game is designed for”.

“At the 49-minute mark, six South African forwards walked onto the field, is that what the replacement laws for safety were designed for?” he said on the Virgin Media Sport podcast.

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“It discriminates against backs; our game is for all shapes and sizes, so in that game, you had 14 forwards.

“That is not what our game was designed for, that’s not what the ancients designed for it, it’s not what we did in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.


“It is not a game for 14 forwards and nine backs. It should be relatively even; it’s never been 50/50 because we have eight forwards and seven backs [in the starting line-up], but that is not what it is.”

Burger has seemingly had enough of Williams’ criticism, saying on RugbyPass TV’s latest episode of Boks Office that he is like a “like a broken record”.

The former flanker has no problem with this approach, and even warned Williams that it is only going to get worse with plenty of injured Springboks poised to return.

“By playing 50 minutes or by playing 80 minutes, you can’t guarantee a player’s safety,” he said. “You can get injured in the first five minutes.


“We are playing the rugby rules and we are fortunate that we’ve got a lot of depth, I think the greatest pool of depth on international level, of Springboks that we’ve ever had.

“And there are more players to come back, to Mr Williams’ agony. Imagine a Lood de Jager comes back, Jasper Wiese, Damian Willemse, Steven Kitshoff comes back, and that’s only going to enhance our squad depth.

“So I don’t see anything wrong with it. If anything, in the years going forward, for player safety and more stringent HIA rules, I think the squads will get bigger. We’ll go to 25 players or so.”


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Dirk 8 days ago

Woke Matt Williams.

Jen 8 days ago

The Bok bashing and whining is getting really boring - and I’m an ABs supporter. It doesn’t matter how they play, someone needs to have a big whinge about it. If it’s in the rules then they can do whatever they want and everyone else can just stay bitter about not thinking of it first.

S 8 days ago

Matt Williams. Who?

Johann 9 days ago

Mr. Williams, as an ancient myself who played with other ancients. I was once made to scrum at prop weighing just over 78kg’s and another time at tighthead weighing less because there were no reserves. That's dangerous.

Brian Moore jumped on your train Matt, and he forgot that the England pack outweighed us in the RWC game. But who cares right if it ain't wearing green and gold right Matt?

Also Matt, there weren't 14 forwards on the field only 8, which is standard. But, Brian Moore's England boasted 9 forwards on the park against Japan. Against the most diminutive pack of forwards. No problem hey Brian, Mr. Williams et al.? Discriminatory rugby against shorter, and lighter guys . The bullies from England hey Matt.

Now, discrimination against backs….. Matt, rugby is about creating mismatches. So when Jonah Lomu steps Brian Moore is it disrimination against the fatties. I ask as a person who was a fat teenager? Could Iitigate against those wings who used to round me on the pitch? Do you think I might win my case Matt?

Was Lomu discriminating against Rory Underwood when he trucked over him? On account of his size. Rory being a Brit and culturally smaller you know Matt?

NZ have always had discriminatory wings in the same vein as Lomu that discriminate against smaller opposition. It dates back to your days Matt. Guys like BG Williams, Lomu, The Bus and Rokocoko are all guilty of discrimination against smaller, slower, fatter, less fit players. Victor Matfield discriminates against shorties and Joe Marler against skinny fellows.

Rob 9 days ago

  1. It’s within the laws
  2. Nothing stopping the opposition from doing the same.
  3. The sport has changed and can’t be compared with other eras, just like we can’t realistically pick a world XV across generations.

BeegMike 9 days ago

Agree with Schalk, this guy is starting to embarrass himself. He has a Springbok issue not a 6-2 issue. If he had a true issue with 6-2, he would have been as critical about it when Ireland tried it too. Selective memory makes you look stupid.

Nickers 9 days ago

I doubt even 1% of rugby fans have any kind of issue with this. It is a tactic like any other that comes down to execution rather than theory.

Teams have to innovate in line with the game and rules. The game is so forward and collision dominated at the moment, and is also very slow, so having two sets of extra large forwards makes complete sense. It is a perfect response to the current environment.

It is dishonest for pundits to keep saying this is some how “dangerous”. Also debatable if it even gives any kind of advantage. SA have won their last 4 games against other top teams by a combined 10 points. Hardly evidence of an unfair advantage or dangerous tactics being deployed.

Flankly 9 days ago

The concepts of 5:3, 6:2, 7:1 etc are meaningless from a Laws perspective. You are entitled to bring any bench player on as a forward or a back, and at any time during the game. The only restriction is that a player coming into a front row position must be qualified for that exact position (TH, LH, Hooker) in this format of rugby. Even then, there is no technical requirement for there to be any such players on the bench. As long as you have the six front rowers in the squad of 23 you’re good. It never happens, but technically your replacement front rowers could be starters in other positions. In that case your bench could have eight hybrid players, eight scrum-halves, or whatever.

So to stop “discriminating against backs” you would have to completely change the model and be explicit about which positions a specific substitute can be assigned to. That’s nuts in general, but it also raises the point that key positions like FlyHalf and FullBack are not even mentioned in the Laws.

This seems to be a discussion about small margins anyway. Is a Bomb Squad of six forwards really that different from a Bomb Squad of five forwards? The scary thing about the Bok Bomb Squad is not the number of people, or whether they come on simultaneously, but the fact that they are comparable in quality to the starting pack. Or, to put it differently, if the Bomb Squad was a major step-down in quality from the starting pack then the bleating and whining would not take place.

By the way, if it is dangerous to have fresh players playing against tired ones then should it be illegal to fail to use your substitutes?

John 9 days ago

Change the rules to say ‘Whatever Matt wants to do’

Toaster 9 days ago

I’m sure the Irish don’t want a failed Aussie complaining on their behalf

So what - it’s different and it works for the Boks

In fact other teams have employed it since
They have a player like Kwagga who can play in the backs which helps

The 7-1 is risk v reward as it only takes a key injury or two especially in the first half to scupper the effect and have the opposite

Also the 6-2 if the starters aren’t performing then it loses its impact too

There is discussion about the merits of the ABs doing it given Englands scrummaging issues but I don’t believe it will happen
I can’t think of a forward other than Ardie who could play in the backs and I can’t imagine he would be keen
They would have to start BB and McKenzie or drop one of BB or Perofeta then have perhaps a half back and someone like Rieko who can cover midfield and wing

Funnily England could do it as Earl played 12 against Japan

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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