Springboks take huge gamble on biggest stage of all

In the event that the bold indeed reap the benefits, South Africa ought to win this Saturday night’s Rugby World Cup final. They have chosen the contentious 7-1 forward to back split on their bench for the third time in two months, and by doing so, they have taken a significant risk in the biggest game of the season.

For those who are unaware, rugby teams typically choose to distribute their replacements 5-3 or 6-2. The rules of international rugby stipulate that a team must have three front-row specialists (also known as hookers and props, who are counted among the forwards) on their bench. Teams then typically allocate the remaining five slots evenly between forwards and backs to guarantee sufficient coverage for all positions.

However, the Springboks have bravely chosen to start just one lone back among their substitutes—Willie Le Roux in this case—for the third occasion in the last two months. There was no harm done on the previous two instances. They defeated New Zealand 35–7 in the World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham, setting a record. Despite losing a close pool match against Ireland, the bench split had no effect on the outcome.

Resuming the effective shape from late August makes sense, especially because Saturday night in Paris is a rematch versus the All Blacks. Jacques Nienaber, the head coach, made exactly that argument when he minimized the criticism surrounding the decision during the team announcement press conference on Thursday.

Nienaber insisted, “The team is 23, not 15. It’s what we always say. Many factors impact the selection of the squad, including historical results, medical clearance, and extensive research into New Zealand and our perceived areas of advantage.

Subsequently, the coaches engage in dialogue, and the score fluctuates between 5-3, 6-2, and 7-1. This is not a 10-minute conversation—this is an hours-long exchange.

It would be foolish of me to list the advantages and disadvantages of the All Blacks. However, a great deal of analysis was done, and in the end, a squad of 23 was chosen. It makes no difference if it was 6-2 or 5-3. You choose a team that you believe is capable of succeeding. We chose the 23 players for a specific reason: we believe they have what it takes to lead us to consecutive World Cup victories.

Even if the choice has proven successful in the past, the Springboks are definitely taking a risk. World-class full back Le Roux can play easily on the wing; any problems at fly half or center might be resolved by rearranging the backline with the players available.

Faf de Klerk, who starts at number nine, is the lone scrum half in the team, so any kind of injury to the man with the flowing blond hair might put South Africa in a difficult situation. Nienaber downplayed the situation once more, offering as an answer to that hypothetical Cheslin Kolbe’s comparable role in sevens.

“As coaches, you always reduce risk by getting others ready,” Nienaber remarked. “It will be Cheslin in our situation. In sevens, he played sweeper, which is the rugby equivalent of scrum half. He’s always been the person who would step in at halfback if we had a yellow card—not just this week, but for a few weeks as well.

Kwagga Smith, a replacement flanker with sevens experience, was also mentioned by De Klerk as a potential alternative. However, any kind of prolonged stint with Kolbe or Smith at No. 9 seems like a surefire way to lose the World Cup.

The selection of Handre Pollard over Manie Libbok at fly half was the other noteworthy decision in the Springbok lineup. The selection of Pollard, who led his side to victory off the bench, is not shocking given Libbok’s early substitution during the semi-final after failing to execute the kicking game and the similarly rainy weather predicted at the Stade de France on Saturday evening. Libbok is unfortunate to miss out on matchday 23 entirely.

In a World Cup final, the option to start a nearly whole new pack off the bench—their trademark “bomb squad”—certainly supports the ferocity and front-row dominance that characterize Springboks rugby. It is the most audacious call worthy of the biggest stages, yet it was unable to change the tide against Ireland in the pool stage.

It was never stated that timidity wins a World Cup, yet in sports, good fortune occasionally rewards the bold.

South Africa XV to face the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup final: 15. Damian Willemse, 14. Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13. Jesse Kriel, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Cheslin Kolbe, 10. Handre Pollard, 9. Faf de Klerk; 1. Steven Kitshoff, 2. Bongi Mbonambi, 3. Frans Malherbe, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Franco Mostert, 6. Siya Kolisi (captain), 7. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8. Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: 16. Deon Fourie, 17. Ox Nche, 18. Trevor Nyakane, 19. Jean Kleyn, 20. RG Snyman, 21. Kwagga Smith, 22. Jasper Wiese, 23. Willie Le Roux

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button