Bulking up the bench

The importance of the forward battle should mean the Springboks pick only two backs on the bench for Saturday’s Test.

The All Blacks have impressively dealt with the Irish and English packs in the opening three Tests of the season, most notably in the scrums. Props Greg Somerville and Neemia Tialata have been the standouts, with Somerville easily dismantling the machine that is Andrew Sheridan for the first Test versus the Poms.

Tialata has made way for loosehead Tony Woodcock for the match against the Springboks, with the former providing adequate cover on the bench for both sides of the scrum.

Conversely, the Boks have been far from convincing at the set-piece against Wales and Italy. Only in the second Test against the Welsh – where BJ Botha anchored the scrum – did the Springboks have any ascendancy here. Botha has since been left out, and the Boks need to pick two props on the bench to counter the All Black trio’s strength.

The weather in Wellington is notoriously bad, and the Boks’ arrival in the capital this weekend was greeted with wet, cold and windy conditions. New Zealand’s first Test of the year against Ireland at the Westpac Stadium was played in the near-freezing temperatures, with Brian O’Driscoll stuttering after the game: “I don’t know if I’ve played in colder than that.”

The Boks may not get as extreme a situation as that this weekend, but the conditions will not be conducive to free-flowing running rugby and an expansive game-plan. Again, having extra grunt in terms of forward depth on the bench can only aid the Boks.

Much will depend on who Peter de Villiers selects in his starting XV, but a run-on backline of Ricky Januarie, Butch James, Brian Habana, Jean De Villiers, Adrian Jacobs, Conrad Jantjes (at wing) and Percy Montgomery only needs two players as cover on the bench.

Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar’s versatility will hold them in good stead as the front-runners to get the spots. Between the two of them they have enough flair and ability to break the game open if the match-situation allows.

Even if Steyn does start ahead of Jacobs, there is still only need for two backline players. Only if Montgomery can’t win a starting position ahead of Odwa Ndungane or JP Pietersen, then the 96-Test veteran will be needed as cover on the bench.

However, the optimum would be a 5-2 split on the wood. In a Test match expected to be typically tough up-front, the Springbok super-sub who has the biggest impact could be a forward-reserve.

By Grant Ball