OPINION: Defusing the ‘bomb squad’ gives Boks more options
The Boks have employed the 'six forwards-two backs' successfully in the past, but it is time to try something different.
Bok replacements Willie le Roux, Hershel Jantjies, Kwagga Smith and Franco Mostert ahead of the match against New Zealand at Ellis Park recently. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images
The Springboks have finally decided to bench the six-two split among their replacements for the moment, and have gone with a five-three split of forwards to backs for their first Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies Down Under on Saturday.
The famed “Bomb Squad” (of six forwards on the bench) made their mark during the 2019 World Cup when their immense impact off the bench helped propel the Boks to their third title, while solidifying its place in the team’s game plan.
Due to the huge amount of utility backs that the Boks have at their disposal, they have been able to comfortably pull off playing six forwards and two backline players on their bench, while loose forward Kwagga Smith adds an extra bit of protection as he can also play in the backline in a pinch.
However, this season has shown how regular, unexpected injuries can put a strain on the six-two split, with the Boks shaking up their backline early on multiple occasions in their six games so far.
In the third Test against Wales it was a 20th minute injury to Cheslin Kolbe which brought Willie le Roux on, leaving Faf de Klerk as the only backline sub for the rest of the game, while in the first All Blacks Test it was a first minute concussion to De Klerk that left Le Roux as the only backline sub on the bench.
The second All Blacks Test then saw an eighth minute concussion to Jesse Kriel bring Le Roux on early, with Herschel Jantjies the sole backline cover left in that match.
It has been strange to see so many early subs needed in so many games for the Boks this season, which has led many to wonder if it isn’t worth hanging up the six-two split for good.
In explaining his decision to change it for the first Aussie Test this weekend, Bok coach Jacques Nieneber said: “Us going with a five-three split is obviously tactical. We have a specific plan. Is it the right plan, we believe so, but we will see on Saturday if this tactical plan is the correct one or not.”
I do believe that going with a five-three split over a few games is a good idea, as it will allow us to play a few more backline players and get some minutes into guys who need it. And, it will give the management team a few more options in the latter stages of the game.
However, I believe the positives of the bomb squad outweigh the negatives and that it should be brought back in as a regular part of the game plan ahead of next year’s World Cup.