The Controversial 7-1 Bench: South Africa’s Risky Rugby Strategy

French rugby circles also express concerns about the 7-1 bench, considering it a step too far for the good of the game.

The Controversial 7-1 Bench: South Africa's Risky Rugby Strategy - The Times Post
The Controversial 7-1 Bench: South Africa's Risky Rugby Strategy.

The concept of a 7-1 bench in rugby may seem like a technical detail, but it has sparked intense debate within the rugby world.

In a traditional 23-man game, each team has 15 starters and eight replacements, with a split of five forwards and three backs.

However, the South African management team of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have taken a radical approach by having seven forwards and just one back on the bench.

[ WADA Confirms That Springboks And Proteas Will Fly South African Flag ]

This strategy, known as the “Shock Boks,” involves introducing all seven forwards at the same time around the 50-minute mark.

The intention is to maintain a high level of intensity throughout the match and catch the opposition off guard with a fresh pack of forwards. Former Springbok fly-half Joel Stransky describes it as “really smart,” but acknowledges the risks involved.

The 7-1 split can only be effective if the team has a forward with the skill set of a back, someone like Kwagga Smith who has played Sevens rugby. This ensures that the team is not handicapped if a back gets injured early in the game.

However, critics like former Scotland coach Matt Williams argue that this strategy could have negative consequences at lower levels of club rugby, where tired props and locks may be at risk of injury when faced with fresh opposition forwards.

French rugby circles also express concerns about the 7-1 bench, considering it a step too far for the good of the game.

Didier Retiere, who was forwards coach during France’s run to the 2011 final, acknowledges the Springboks’ game profile based on combat and the explosiveness of their forwards but questions the potential impact on the overall integrity of the sport.

While the 7-1 split has its advantages, it is not foolproof. In their match against Ireland, the Springboks dominated the pack but lacked the fresh pace out wide to capitalize on the gaps created.

Missed kicks further hindered their performance, resulting in a 13-8 loss. This fallibility off the tee may lead the Boks to opt for a safer 6-2 split against the French.

The selection of fly-half is also a factor in determining the bench composition. Manie Libbok’s open game is exceptional, but his kicking abilities do not match those of Handre Pollard, the 2019 World Cup winner.

Erasmus and Nienaber may choose to include both players in the 23, with Cobus Reinach as the scrum-half/utility choice.

Ultimately, the decision to employ the 7-1 split will depend on the management’s willingness to take risks.

Former France lock Abdelatif Benazzi, who faced the Springboks in the 1995 semi-final, advises a proactive approach to counter this challenge. He emphasizes the importance of winning the ball back, maintaining intensity, and playing their own game.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here