In the past, the reserves would normally be brought on for the last few minutes just to get a cap.
Then it evolved to the last 20 minutes, almost like clockwork, almost out of duty to give the bench some game time.But the Springboks reinvented the wheel with the introduction of the ‘Bomb Squad’ concept at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Then-coach Rassie Erasmus rolled out the big boys such as Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch early in the second half, after Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe softened up the opposition pack in the first 45 to 50 minutes.
But in recent games, new coach Jacques Nienaber has added a new dynamic, bringing on some replacements as early as the 29th minute in the first half of the 35-23 defeat to the All Blacks at Ellis Park, where Marx came on for Joseph Dweba at hooker.
Nienaber was magnanimous enough in the aftermath to blame the management group for some of the reasons for the loss.
“I am not pointing fingers at the players. It is us as a group that could have handled that better. There were some naive decisions by us as coaches,” Nienaber said.
So, when should the reserves come on?
Clearly, bringing some of the forwards on early didn’t work against New Zealand. The Boks, despite fighting back to take a 23-21 lead in the second half, conceded two tries late in the game when the Kiwis were down to 14 men.
The South Africans had run out of puff, and that must be avoided in tomorrow’s showdown with the Wallabies at the Adelaide Oval (7.30am kickoff).
The Australians will also look to stretch the Bok defence from side to side and try to tire those big forwards, so Nienaber needs to hold his fire a bit.
The front row of Ox Nche, Dweba and Malherbe must be trusted to play for at least 45 minutes. In fact, I would push that to 50 minutes. Imagine the fear in the Wallabies’ eyes when Kitshoff, Marx and Koch saunter onto the field with half an hour left …
Similarly, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager have more than enough petrol in their engines to last up to 60 minutes. That would allow the athletic Franco Mostert to throw his body at the Wallabies for 20-25 minutes and put real pressure on their defence.
Kwagga Smith is just a ball of energy, and can make a massive difference if he can go full tilt in the last 35 minutes or so. That would mean Duane Vermeulen has to last about 45 minutes, and if he is fit enough to start, he needs to play that amount of time to justify his selection.