‘Pieter-Steph can play wing any day’ – Springboks coaches reveal thinking behind 7-1 split

Jared Wright
Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus, forward Pieter-Steph du Toit and head coach Jacques Nienaber.

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have further explained the thinking around the 7-1 split.

Springboks coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have revealed the thought process and reasoning behind the 7-1 bench split during the Rugby World Cup.

South Africa’s risky tactic of selecting seven forwards and just one backline player on their bench before the 2023 World Cup and during it dominated the headlines.

While ex-Scotland coach Matt Williams slammed the idea as ‘abusing safety laws’ of the game, it was well within the coaches’ rights to select any eight replacements as long as there were replacements for all three front-row positions.

After a resounding success in testing the tactic against the formidable All Blacks before the tournament, Erasmus and Nienaber confidently deployed the tactic in the pool stage match against Ireland and the final against New Zealand.

“That’s why we went with the 7-1 split again”

In yet another Chasing the Sun 2 extra, ex-head coach Nienaber and current boss Erasmus explained their thinking behind the bold tactic they implemented against Ireland.

“The moment we got the Scotland victory – and no disrespect for Romania and Tonga, we knew we had to perform in those two games – but it took the pressure off the game against Ireland, and that’s why we went with the 7-1 split again,” Nienaber said in the Betway exclusive clip.

South Africa is renowned for their forwards producing several world-class players, particularly in the tight five, and Erasmus noted that played a role in their decision-making as the coaches attempted to get their best players in a matchday 23.

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“If you want your best 23 players on the field and 15 of them are forwards, then put them on, find a way,” Erasmus explained.

“You know, if it’s not against the laws of the game and if you’ve got the quality forwards we have where the one that comes off [the bench], you actually can’t tell the difference between him and the guy who started [the match].

“You could never do it if you don’t have the personnel to do it.”

Nienaber, who has since joined Leinster’s coaching team, said it is “not a crazy idea”.

“If you look at the versatility that we have within our group, I mean, it’s not a crazy idea. Pieter-Steph [du Toit] can play wing any day. Kwagga [Smith] can play wing any day,” Nienaber added.

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Forwards get tired

Erasmus also learnt from the past, having started coaching almost immediately after his retirement from professional rugby.

The former Springboks loose forward believes that the forwards are less effective when they start to tire while the lighter backs are able to still perform basics at a high level even when they fatigue.

“I always found it to be that the last 20 minutes, it’s the slower forwards that get tired and get exploited by the crafty wingers; it’s the tightheads and locks and those guys,” he explained.

“But a slow, tired back can still tackle somebody because he’s fit and fast and agile, but the slow, tired forward gets beaten much easier. So first of all, I always wanted to do it. Then when we eventually had the squad with Jean Kleyn coming in we were able to do it.”

Quiz: Can you name every Springboks captain since 1995?