Whilst recording this weeks episode of the Podcast 'South Strong' (which you should definitely check out here). Ronnie mentioned how Kwagga Smith was like a Swiss Army Knife and could slot in anywhere in the team if needed. This got me thinking about how smart the Springbok management team has been over the years leading up to this tournament and here is why.
When one considers the Rugby World Cup, one key factor is that you are only allowed to take 33 players with to the tournament. I think back to when I was trying to predict the World Cup squad and I seriously struggled to whittle the players down to 33. In that limited number you need to ensure enough front row cover, there must be enough specialist cover such as fetchers, kickers, jumpers and so on. It is no easy task. So innovative as always, RasNaber and Co set about ensuring this was a non-issue.
Often times you hear the phrase 'Jack of all trades, master of none' and it usually carries the connotation that whilst one is good at many things, they aren't great in anything specific. This is something you simply can't say about the current Springbok squad. Since 2018, the coaches have set about coaching players to fulfil multiple roles, and not just fill them but excel in them. Yes this frustrated fans over the years when things didn't come together and we suffered losses along the way, but that was always done with a bigger picture in mind. A picture that is two brush strokes away from seeing Siya lead us to glory again.
So how did the Boks overcome the 32 man limitation? It takes casting an eye back over the last couple of years to see how it all came together. It was the risks taken in playing guys out of position and out of their comfort zones to get here. Some players made it through their litmus test and are currently defending our title in France. Others did not, but may do so in the future. Here are some examples
Trevor Nyakane, his versatility in that he can play on either side of the scrum meant that the Springboks could afford to select fewer front rowers. This made space in the squad to cover other positions. Don't forget that we also have Thomas Du Toit who can do exactly the same and has been a major part of the Bok squad over the years. Even if there was an injury, we had a back up who could provide identical versatile cover.
Deon Fourie is another. He can cover both flank and hooker, and due to an unfortunate injury to Marx is now 2nd in command for the 2 jersey. Just look back to this past weekend though. He was inserted at flank first, so that we could deploy his fetching abilities whilst still using Bongi's physicality in the scrum. He was then shifted forward as Bongi began to tire and Kwagga, the inspiration for this article came on to cover at loose forward.
Franco 'Sous' Mostert is our primary lock, but should the situation dictate, he can easily shift to flank and has garnered decent experience there. This boosts what the coaches are able to do with the bench. Pieter-Steph could also shift back into the engine room. The versatility amongst our pack is a huger strength.
In the backs you look at a player like Canan Moodie who came in as a wing and then shone as an outside center too, when injury struck down Am. He did so well there that he absolutely demolished the All Blacks midfield at Twickenham. You have Faf who covers 9 and 10. Grant and Cobus who cover 9 and 11/14. Kurt-Lee covering wing and fullback, whilst Cheslin and Willie can cover at wing, fullback and flyhalf if needed. There is also Damian Willemse who covers 15, 10 and 12.
We have built the Swiss Army Knife of squads for this tournament. Not only does this assist in picking a 33 man squad to begin with, its also greatly assistive when selecting a match day 23 as you have multiple ways of assembling a starting 15 and even more leeway when it comes to your bench, allowing things as bold as a 7/1 split. It caters to the inadvertent risk of receiving a card and having to cover for that missing player.
The crucial element that the Bok management got right, was actually exposing these players to multiple positions so that this was not simply theoretical when touching down in France. I would argue that in many instances these players have become masters of more than one trade. This must be credited to the management team and their long term planning skills.
I believe we have the squad capable of taking on a few alterations to the 23 that did battle against France and who will be able to topple England. It is going to be a massive task on Saturday, so here is hoping we have a World Cup final to look forward to in a weeks time.