Cape Town - The use of the Springboks’ replacements bench in their thriller of a Test against the All Blacks on the Gold Coast at the weekend was a big step for head coach Jacques Nienaber, but it was a step that ultimately won them the game.
The Boks secured a stunning 31-29 victory to not only end their Rugby Championship campaign on a high not but also to regain their world number one ranking.
With the result, the South Africans ended their three-match losing streak – their first since 2016 – and also snapped the New Zealanders’ nine-match unbeaten run.
Siya Kolisi’s men fought back from being 20-14 down to score 17 points in the second half, while the All Blacks only managed nine.
A big feature in the game was the use of the bench, with Nienaber replacing the whole front row after 38 minutes and starting the second half with Frans Steyn at fullback.
Elton Jantjies was also given a longer than usual run at flyhalf.
In previous games, the use of the bench sometimes sparked some questions, with players having an off game remaining on the field for an extended period despite their struggles.
At the weekend, it worked a treat. Willie le Roux had a nightmare outing, with two big mistakes helping the All Blacks to two tries, while he also took a couple of poor kicking choices on attack.
Steyn’s big boot had a massive influence, and after the game Nienaber praised the veteran for his contribution.
“Frans was brilliant. Willie had a few good touches in the game and there was some good play from him, but I wanted to bring in Frans for the 50-22 kicks. He trained well with us and did very well when called upon,” Nienaber said.
Jantjies, after coming onto the field, was a key figure in the Bok triumph. He kicked a drop-goal to put the Boks ahead late in the game, assisted Makazole Mapimpi for his try, and kicked over the match-winning penalty at the death.
Those were just his standout touches. Overall, the influence he brought was huge.
While a change at fullback seemed much more needed than changes to the front row, especially considering how strong the starting front row stood, it’s not a decision that backfired at all.
Nienaber explained his reasoning behind the call.
“We see them as a combination and the minutes played will never be the same. The first group has to do a specific job and once they’ve done that then the next group can come on,” he said after the game.
“Sometimes it’s gonna be at 35 minutes, sometimes it’s gonna be 50 minutes, and sometimes it’s gonna be 60 minutes. The moment we feel they’ve done their part, we will bring the other guys on.
“Today I felt they emptied their tanks with what they were trying to do. They did their job and that’s why that front-row substitution happened.
“Today they (the starting front row) emptied their tanks after 38 minutes and I replaced them when they did their job.
“After last week (a two-point loss to the All Blacks), I decided we should make use of our subs. We must never keep a substitution on the bench, they are there to fulfil a role.”