Springbok coaches shut down criticism of 7-1 split on safety grounds

Springbok coaches shut down criticism of 7-1 split on safety grounds

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have dismissed suggestions their decision to use a 7-1 bench split presents a safety risk to the opposition.

The Boks first selected a replacement mix of seven forwards and one back in their Rugby World Cup warm-up match against New Zealand after a late injury withdrawal.

It was predicted that the coaches might use the tactic again during the World Cup, and that came to pass as they included seven forwards on the bench for their Pool B clash against Ireland on Saturday.

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Former Ireland hooker Keith Wood predicted that World Rugby would change the laws around replacements after the tournament as the move didn't seem "fair", but former Scotland coach Matt Williams was even more critical of the Springboks' tactics.

"Is it legal? Yes. Is it smart rugby? Yes. Is it good tactics? Yes. But it is not morally correct!" Williams told Virgin Media.

South African Director of Rugby Erasmus has since responded to Williams on X, formerly Twitter.

"Hi Matt, I am also over 50 but I dont understand what your point is and how you got to your 'conclusion'," Erasmus wrote.

Erasmus also included a link to Ross Tucker's video explaining the complexities of the debate surrounding the number of substitutes and whether fresher players playing against fatigued ones causes more injuries.

"If there is to be a reduction in subs number, it would be despite evidence, not because of it (or for other reasons). Evidence suggests that as replacements are added to a tackle event, injury risk drops. And that fatigued vs fatigued injury risk is higher than fresh vs fatigued," Tucker wrote on X.

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Stormers coach John Dobson was also recently asked about the potential safety implications and explained why he didn't think it was an issue.

"I don't buy into the safety element of it," he said during an appearance on the Off the Ball podcast. "Those fatigue injuries that happen later in the game tend to be open-play, high-speed injuries. They aren't injuries from mauls or scrums. Mercifully, rugby has fixed the scrum issue. We don't get injuries, very rarely, in the scrum, certainly not cataclysmic ones. Nor do people get injured in a maul."

Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber has also addressed the outcry on the make-up of the bench.

"I think if there is innovation in any sport, it gets reaction, positive or negative," Nienaber said.

"This is obviously unique; it is the first time a team has named seven forwards and one back on the bench [at a men's World Cup], so that is why I would say it's innovation. That will get a reaction.

"In terms of player safety, I don't get that. I know nothing stops anyone else doing it, and it will be a sad day, I think, if you're innovative in the laws of the game, and then they would change that.

"It's not against the laws of the game, and I don't think it has any bearing on player safety at all."

Nienaber went on to explain that the Springboks don't see the eight replacements as bench players.

In 2019, South Africa's 6-2 split was dubbed the 'Bomb Squad' at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, and the head coach says that they have maintained the same outlook for their replacements.

"That's a tough one in our team because I don't know other teams; our bench isn't necessarily what I would call a bench," he explained when asked if he selects his bench before his starting line-up.

"Sometimes people get an idea that if you are on the bench, you are probably not as good as the guy who starts.

"But like we have said numerous times, with the team and squad we have here, that is not necessarily the case.

"I won't say we start with the bench; we select 23. I know it is probably a cliche, but that is genuinely how we do it. They are selected for specific reasons."

READ MORE: Ireland boss Andy Farrell not bothered by Bok Bomb Squad: 'It's about us'