I see the usual Div-bashers are out in force. Imagine what they’d be like if we actually lost a test-match? Fact is, though, Div goofed pretty badly with his substitution strategy on Saturday. The coach has admitted it, though and let’s hope he won’t make the same mistake at Loftus.
First up, how about some credit to the Boks and their coach, though – that first 50 minutes was pretty impressive, particularly given the lack of match practice leading up to the test. The whole packed worked superbly and the halfbacks were measured and controlled throughout – pinning the Lions back and keeping the scoreboard ticking over, making tries somewhat unnecessary.
The lights went out in no small way the moment Brüssow crossed the chalk, though and you got the feeling the Boks decided at that point that they had the match won. Mental gears were changed and the intensity was suddenly absent. I guess one could argue that some fresh legs were needed, but exactly what the coach hoped to achieve by bringing on Danie Rossouw for Brüssow is anyone’s guess. Big Danie is no speed merchant and if added momentum was needed, he should have been brought on for Pierre Spies or Juan Smith, both of whom lacked impact. Rossouw, though, has been most effectively used as a lock replacement at Super 14 level and perhaps he, rather than the less-than-physical Andries Bekker, should have replaced chief enforcer Bakkies Botha. Bringing Bekker on for Botha effectively nobbled the tight five and it’s not surprising that the Lions got right back on top of the physical contest at the stage. Taking off BOTH dominant props for looser players was just the cherry on top for the Lions.
The major issue, to me, was the way that de Villiers took so many of his on-field leaders off all at the same time. John Smit should have gone to hooker and Jacque Fourie should have replaced Adi Jacobs, not Jean de Villiers. Fourie du Preez needed to stay on to guide Morné Steyn through his test debut. Exactly what role Ricky Januarie is meant to play at this stage, I’ll admit I’m not sure.
All is not lost, though and with a few tweaks, I feel we can really put the squeeze on at Loftus. Schalk Burger must come back in to handle Jamie Roberts, while Rossouw must be picked as a lock replacement. Either Brüssow or Kankowski, or perhaps both, should be the loose forward replacement(s), with Januarie possibly missing out in a 5-2 bench.
Picking two prop replacements is fine, but you need to stagger this introduction to always keep the upperhand. More importantly, keep Smit on the field until the match is well and truly won.