Instead of including four locks, Kwagga Smith would have been a more fitting selection for the Springboks’ World Cup crunch match against Italy tomorrow.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus went with a six-two split for their penultimate Pool B game in Shizuoka, naming only Frans Steyn and Herschel Jantjies as backline cover on the bench for the clash with the Azzurri. Erasmus has made it clear that he believes the game will be won up front and that a massive forward effort will be required against a physical Italian pack.
Back in 2016, when the Italians caused a major upset by beating Allister Coetzee’s Boks in Florence, it was the hosts’ physicality in contact and their work on the ground that caused the South Africans all kinds of problems. This time, the Boks would surely have circled the opposition’s scrummaging, mauling and lineout contesting in red as they prepare for the encounter.
Taking that into account, Erasmus will be pleased with what his pack did in their 57-3 win over Namibia last week, especially the huge mauling performance they produced, although it wasn’t against the strongest opposition.
In that game Franco Mostert came in at blindside flank and he has again been selected on the bench this week along with RG Snyman and Francois Louw.
The Boks coach also said that they would have to use a loose forward in the backline should they pick up more than two injuries during the crucial game.
So, was going for four locks in the matchday squad, not taking Pieter-Steph du Toit into account (five if you include him), the best move?
While former Blitzbok star Smith didn’t have his best game against Namibia, his pace, skill and overall balling ability would have been very useful should an “emergency” situation arise in the backline.
He is always ready to pounce and can create and finish as easily as a “born” back can. He would have slotted right in.
It would be no major adjustment.
While Erasmus admitted it’s a “gamble”, he also reiterated the importance of having “plenty of ammunition” for the forward battle he is expecting.
“People may think it is a gamble to have only two back replacements but we want to have plenty of ammunition for what is likely to be a major forward battle,” he said on Tuesday.
“It’s a 23-player game these days and the players who come on will be expected to contribute almost as much in game time as those who start among the front rowers.
“But for this game we are asking the players we have chosen to start to set the tone.
“If we do get a third injury in the backline, then we will have to be creative. But we have some plans there.
“I think if we really have to, in extreme circumstances because of injuries, we have a versatile enough backline to cover that. But yes, if we do get three injuries in the backline, we will have to revert with a loose forward.”
It’s not to say a loose forward is going to have to move out wide, but this is a World Cup, and you can’t go into matches like these, heck, any match for that matter, just hoping for the best.
Erasmus said it himself – it’s a gamble. And having Kwagga among the loose forwards and as possible backline cover would have made it a more promising bet.