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Finishers versus the Bomb Squad: The World Cup final game within a game

Both Eddie Jones and Rassie Erasmus have stressed the importance of their benches.

BEFORE LAST WEEKEND’S semi-final win over New Zealand, Eddie Jones gathered his players and named his finishing team before he had named his starting team.

“When we picked the squad this week, we started with the finishing 15, not the starting 15,” Jones tells his team on the latest episode of the outstanding Rising Sons series.

“Why? Because the finishing 15 are going to win or lose the game.

“Against New Zealand in the first 20 minutes, you can’t win or lose the game. You can put yourself in a good position to win the game. With that in mind, I’m going to name the finishing 15 first.

“Joe Marler, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Coley [Dan Cole]…”

And so on.

eddie-jones Eddie Jones insists on calling his replacements 'finishers'. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Some will understandably dismiss it as garbage but Jones appears to believe deeply in the importance of the men who tog out in the jerseys numbered 16 to 23.

He calls them his ‘finishers’ and he took umbrage with a question after the Australia quarter-final about having dropped George Ford to the bench.

“I didn’t drop him mate, I changed his role,” responded Jones. “I know you guys [the media] struggle with that.

“But he changed his role and he was brilliant. Are we vindicated? We’re happy that he played his role well. 

“Maybe you guys have got to start reporting differently. Come into modern rugby, join us. Rugby has changed, it’s a 23-man game.”

While some supporters bristle at the use of the term ‘finishers,’ Jones and other coaches are all in on this kind of focus around their bench players. They don’t want them to simply sit by in the event that they are needed to replace injured starters, rather they stress that subs can supplement the team or drastically alter the game when introduced.

Joe Schmidt placed a major emphasis on the readiness of his substitutes throughout his Ireland reign, while Jones’ World Cup final counterpart, Rassie Erasmus, has made a big play in this department too.

The Springboks, who will once again operate with a 6/2 split of forwards and backs on their bench on Saturday, call their heavy-duty impact players the ‘Bomb Squad’.

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south-africa-v-italy-pool-b-2019-rugby-world-cup-shizuoka-stadium-ecopa Steven Kitshoff is a world-class loosehead prop. Source: Adam Davy

Erasmus has six forwards on his bench – Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, and Francois Louw – who would likely start for most nations, the idea being that his actual starting pack grind the opposition forwards down and then he sends on close to a completely new pack in the second half to finish them off.

“We’ve got a well-rested pack, I feel, because the guys have had split game time,” says Boks scrum-half Faf de Klerk. “Our boys will be up for it and we will see at the end of the game how they look and how they feel.

“Hopefully we can exploit that with a bit of tempo, with our ‘Bomb Squad’ coming off the bench.”

The South African scrum was key to their semi-final win over Wales and for Erasmus to be able to replace a starting front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, and Frans Malherbe with the quality of Kitshoff, Marx, and Koch is a major luxury.

“The ‘Bomb Squad’ brought a big impact into the second half, getting dominance at scrum time and putting the opposition ball under pressure,” says Kitshoff of the victory over Wales. “That was great.”

Meanwhile, the English finishers are wary of what the Boks have to offer in the way of bench impact but will focus on their own role in lifting the tempo for Jones’ side.

“In terms of size, they’re big guys,” says replacement loosehead Joe Marler. “Eddie said earlier on in the tournament that the game has changed.

“Was he attacking someone in here [in the media]? Probably, but you’ve got to get into the modern game now and you use all 23. In terms of the squad, with me and Dan being on the bench, I hope he means that.”

englands-henry-slade Henry Slade made a positive impact off the bench against New Zealand.

Replacement tighthead Cole chips in: “All of the South African bench have the ability to start so there’s no drop-off in quality there. We try to lift the tempo with our bench players so it will be a 23-man game.”

Cowan-Dickie is a punchy replacement hooker and George Kruis is an experienced lock, while Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph offer classy options in the outside backs. There is one new face in the England 23 in the shape of Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer, who replaces the injured Willi Heinz.

Meanwhile, the two backs in the Boks’ 6/2 are World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year nominee Herschel Jantjies and the highly-experienced Frans Steyn, who offers a long-range kicking option in the event that the endgame is tight.

“When I was younger, I didn’t worry about it,” says Steyn of the prospect of trying to win the World Cup for the Boks with his howitzer of a boot. “I don’t know if I hope it doesn’t happen because I’m stressing a bit more these days.

“But Handré [Pollard] can kick very well and he can also kick the ball a mile, so I’m just there to support. If they need me, then I’m there and just trying to do my best.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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