Springboks accused of ‘abusing rugby traditions’ as Rassie Erasmus ‘discriminates against backs’

Jared Wright
Springboks back-rower Pieter-Steph du Toit in action against Ireland and former Scotland coach Matt Williams.

Matt Williams has slammed the Springboks tactics once again.

Matt Williams has slammed the Springboks’ tactics around the use of their bench, stating that it “discriminates against backs”.

The ex-Scotland head coach has previously been a huge critic of South Africa’s ‘Bomb Squad’ and has doubled down on his position after the Springboks’ 27-20 win over Ireland in Pretoria.

In his first game back as head coach of the Boks, Rassie Erasmus named six forwards and two backs on his replacements bench. In the 50th minute of the match, Erasmus decided to bring all six forwards onto the pitch simultaneously, with only Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kwagga Smith playing the entire 80 minutes.

Williams hit out at the Springboks’ tactics ahead of the Rugby World Cup last year when seven forwards featured off the bench against the All Blacks, stating that the side were “abusing the bench” and doubled down, insisting that the move was “against the spirit of the game”.

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He has maintained that opinion as he believes that Erasmus and co. aren’t using the laws around the replacements for what they were designed for.

This after the Springboks’ replacements played a major role in the Test match’s outcome, with the South African scrum crushing Ireland’s with a massive shove to earn a crucial penalty try to extend their lead to 12 points.

“At the 49-minute mark, six South African forwards walked onto the field, is that what the replacement laws for safety were designed for?” he said on the Virgin Media Sport podcast.

“And that is not any criticism of South Africa, it’s not a criticism of Rassie, it’s a criticism of World Rugby that allows that to happen. That is not what our game is designed for.

“The South Africans took full advantage of a loophole in the system, and that is where the penalty try came from.”

South Africa are often accused of being rather conservative with ball in hand but, after two matches in 2024, they look to be attacking more freely.

However, Williams adds that their bench tactics discriminates against backline players as the Springboks lean further into their pack strength, particularly with their depth in the forwards.

“It discriminates against backs; our game is for all shapes and sizes, so in that game, you had 14 forwards,” he added.

“That is not what our game was designed for, that’s not what the ancients designed for it, it’s not what we did in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

“It is not a game for 14 forwards and nine backs. It should be relatively even; it’s never been 50/50 because we have eight forwards and seven backs [in the starting line-up], but that is not what it is.”

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‘The bench was a safety law’

The 64-year-old maintains that having so many forwards on the bench is a safety issue and one that World Rugby should address, and that the responsibility to change things relies on the governing body and not the coaches or teams.

“The bench was a safety law and I have said before one of my teammates became a quadriplegic,” he said.

“The bench was a safety law, that is not safe, what they did – maybe at international level [it is], but not down the lower levels of the game. I won’t stop saying this because I passionately believe it.

“Bringing replacements on at that time, just so close to the start of the second half, that’s not what it’s about.

“The whole replacement laws they say are going to be reviewed in November and they need a serious review because this is abusing what our game is meant to be.

“It’s abusing our ethos, it’s abusing our traditions, and it’s abusing our safety rules and it has to change.

“I have no criticism of South Africa or Rassie for doing it because it’s legal. But you can see Ireland have gone 6-2, teams across the world have gone to 7-1 and 6-2. That is not what our game was meant to be, and the law has to be changed, not the coaches. The coach’s job is to win the game. The responsibility sits with World Rugby.”

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