The 2023 Rugby World Cup is up and running, and this weekend sees one of the highlights of the Pool stages when the reigning champions, South Africa, take on the number-one team in the world, Ireland.
The big talking point in the run-up to the match is Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber’s team selection, which includes a 7-1 split on the bench of forwards and backs.
Nicknamed the ‘bomb squad’, the 7-1 split was seen in excellent use in South Africa’s final warm-up game for the Rugby World Cup, when they recorded their highest-ever win over New Zealand, demolishing them 35-7 at Twickenham.
The Springboks forwards emptied their tank in the first 47 minutes before seven of the eight members of the pack were replaced, allowing them to overpower the All Blacks.
Having seen the 7-1 split work in such devastating fashion, Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus feel it’s a system that has the potential to cause Ireland a similar problem.
A 7-1 split does come with some risk, though, mainly if South Africa were to suffer an injury or two in the backs and are then looking for players to cover areas out of position.
The other drawback is that for a 7-1 split to work at its best, all seven forward changes must be done simultaneously to not upset the team’s rhythm by making player changes every five or ten minutes through the second half.
The Springboks are in the position of being able to utilise the 7-1 split so well due to the unbelievable talent they have in their forwards.
It could be argued that South Africa’s second or third-choice pack could compete with many nation’s first-choice set of forwards.
Naming a 7-1 split at a Rugby World Cup has caused a considerable stir, with many critics of the system saying it’s not fair, but as it stands, it’s perfectly within the rules.
With so little to split the top teams of the northern and southern hemispheres, any small gain can be vital, and the Springboks feel that using a 7-1 split gives themselves a better chance of winning.
Their clash with Ireland will be intriguing, with the winner likely to top Pool B, which would then see them face the runners-up of Pool A, currently most likely to be New Zealand, in the quarter-finals. In contrast, the runners-up in Pool B would likely face tournament hosts France.
So, with so much on the line, Saturday’s game is set to be an absolute firecracker.