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Why Springboks chose not to select six/two bench versus England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

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Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber has explained why they have kept Elton Jantjies in their matchday 23 to take on England next Saturday at Twickenham rather than select an extra forward on their replacements bench for their final match of the Autumn Nations Series. Jantjies was a starter in the win over Scotland last weekend and while he has now conceded the No10 jersey to Handre Pollard, he has been given a role as the No22 in London rather than miss out altogether. 

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It was at the 2019 World Cup, which culminated in the dominant win over a bruised England in the final, where the Springboks made regular use of a six/two forwards/backs split on their bench. This tactic gave them an edge in the end-game physical stakes. However, while their bomb squad still had a reputation for destruction, especially the early use of their replacement front-rowers, the six/two tactic has become largely redundant under Nienaber.

In the 13 Springboks teams he has named, including the 23 for this Saturday’s showdown with England, Nienaber has gone with a five/three bench split on ten occasions, meaning the six replacement forwards have been selected in only three games – the second Test versus the Lions in July and the two September games versus the Wallabies in September, both of which were lost.  

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At the World Cup final two years ago, Herschel Jantjies and Frans Steyn were the only two backs chosen on the bench along with six forwards. However, rather than reprise that type of Springboks selection, Nienaber has gone with three backs for this weekend’s rematch by including Elton Jantjies as another reserve.

Why? “We had certain internal goals and things we wanted to do in the end of year tour, trying not to compromise or lose momentum,” he explained. “Whenever we made a change we said this was a rotational change or not a rotational. 

“I thought Elton was outstanding last weekend and it was good to give him a start, the way he trained and the way I thought he performed in the games he started he is really pushing hard, but I thought Handre did well when he came on and with Elton on the bench it gives us that little bit of versatility in terms of the back end of the game depending on if you are chasing the game or if you are in control you can make certain substitutions – so it gives us a little bit of versatility.”

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While the six/two replacements tactic is apparently on hold then in the Nienaber era, a different type of tactic from the past is now suddenly being persisted with – that of selecting midfielder Jesse Kriel on the right wing. Not since September 2018 had the 27-year-old been considered as a winger, but he will start a third consecutive game in that position when he runs out at Twickenham. 

It needed an injury to Cheslin Kolbe and red tape surrounding the paperwork of Sbu Nkosi to get Kriel into the No14 jersey to take on Wales at the start of the tour, but he has kept hold of it since then despite Nkosi clearing up his status and now being available for selection. 

“There was a big discussion about maybe getting Subu back in the mix,” admitted Nienaber. “He joined us a little bit late in terms of his passport and his travel documents.

“I thought Jesse in the first game against Wales and the step-up he made in the second game against Scotland, especially with all the different variations Scotland can bring to their game in terms of a kicking game, in terms of a passing game, he adapted well and he had a solid performance. 

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“This end of year tour we want to continue keeping momentum but we also want to try a couple of things and build some experience in certain players in certain positions just to get some versatility. That was our thinking around that.”

 

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