Former Scotland head coach Matt Williams has called for World Rugby to intervene in how teams can use their benches with specific regard to the number of forwards and backs named.
The complaint comes after the Springboks fielded a bench against the All Blacks almost entirely consisting of forwards in a 7-1 split, with Cobus Reinach the only backline player.
The original plan was for the world champions to have a 6-2 split on their bench but a late withdrawal from Willie le Roux saw the South Africans risk it with a very rare 7-1 split.
The risk in using such a forward-dominated bench lies in potential catastrophe if there is more than one injury within the starting backline. This was not the case against New Zealand as the team maximised the reward of the tactic by having the ability to almost completely change their forward pack in the second period.
As of now, there is no restriction regarding how teams must split forwards and backs on their benches, with the Boks’ triumph at the 2019 Rugby World Cup being powered by the 6-2 split which was less common at that stage. Now more teams such as France, Scotland, Australia and even New Zealand have deployed the tactic this year.
However, Williams feels World Rugby needs to step in to provide restrictions to prevent teams from doing this.
🗣 "What South Africa did is totally against the spirit of the game and certainly against player safety.
🗣 "World Rugby should act and say 'during the World Cup you need 3 backs on the bench."
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) August 29, 2023
“The South Africans are just abusing the bench at the moment,” Williams told OTB Monday Night Rugby podcast.
“The bench came in all for safety reasons. People didn’t come on for positions they weren’t trained for so we weren’t putting back-rowers in the front-row. Everything was done for a reason.
“They had seven forwards [against New Zealand]. Seven forwards… really? Seriously? And World Rugby has just got to act on this.
“The way you fix it is say you must have three recognised backs on your bench. And that stops it.
“But right now South Africa just change the whole pack. Now if they do that and we’re not up to scratch, they’ll be found out.
“South Africa’s tactics are obvious now, what they are going to do. We have to be ready for it.”