Rassie Erasmus won’t be at Twickenham on Saturday – in fact, he will miss game days for the Boks until the end of next summer if his suspension is in place – but his legacy will be clearly visible.
Leaving aside the nonsense that tarnished a disappointing Lions streak and resulted in his ban this week.
I want to acknowledge what a smart and influential coach he is and although South Africa was not always easy on the eyes under him, they won the World Cup, defeated the Lions and, after a dodgy period in the rugby championship, signed off with a great win against New Zealand.
Rassie Erasmus’ South African team successfully pioneered the use of the “bomb squad” tactic
The Springboks often swap their entire front row very early in the second half – the theory suggests that it is beneficial to end the game with the first strikers on the pitch
After doing pretty well with Wales and Scotland, they aim to end an epic season with a win over England.
My instinct is to rage against their famous bomb squad.
Too many substitutions are allowed in rugby and it distorts the fight to find not only the best team but also the fittest team over 80 minutes.
But the laws are what they are and the clever trainer recognizes this, even if he may not agree to them. So all I can say is that his introduction to the bomb squad – five or six quality strikers from the bench early in the second half – has often proven to be masterful.
Most of the games between the top nations are very close with 50 minutes, the lead is one result or less. This means that almost all games between the top countries will be decided in the last half hour.
So it makes sense to have some of your best players for that final half hour and fire from all cylinders. If you can put a man in the top five, and maybe even a man in the back row who is better than the one in the field, that makes a world of difference.
South Africa is probably the only team on the planet that has the strength beforehand to pull it off. Your options in the front row on the bench are better than the front row in my opinion.
England coach Eddie Jones must find a way to defuse the inevitable bomb squad
Franco Mostert is also one of the best locks in the world and their back row won’t lose anything with the introduction of Jasper Wiese. So the theory is fine, but the hard part is getting it to work since you are dealing with large egos and perceived norms.
The front row has to fit in with the plan and acknowledge that the guys on the bench are likely to be first choices. It also means that the guys on the bench have to swallow their pride and accept that they are not starting big games.
This takes getting used to and requires careful handling by the coach and rugby director.
I tried something similar once against Italy in Rome. Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Phil Vickery were not impressed and saw no need for such messing around.
I stopped the experiment – it was a step too far back then – but secretly I longed to do it again against a really big team like the Boks in South Africa or France in Paris. That would have been the acid test.
So how do you fight such tactics and defuse the bomb squad? The key is to start quickly and make sure the game doesn’t end half an hour before the end. Get South Africa out of its comfort zone and mess the plan. Don’t let the game develop the way you want it to.
Sir Clive Woodward thinks England looks easy in the front row and could miss Mako Vunipola
England needs to get out of the blocks quickly, play at a fast pace and be clinical. It takes intense, focused effort. And they have to massively increase the ball game time. It was way too low against Australia.
That would suit South Africa. England need to speed things up as after a brilliant start against the Aussies they were drawn into a slow game that failed to play its strengths with a back-line led by Marcus Smith.
I’m not a fan of multi-phase attacks for their own sake, but at least if you keep the ball, the opponent has to dance to his tune. That could reap rewards later in the game.
The pack needs to ensure that scrums are quick and efficient without the endless resets that take up the game. If you are admitting possession when you throw in, it is better to do so quickly and restart the game than to spend two minutes fiddling with it.
You beat the boks by leveling them up front in each department, keeping the pace high, stretching the game and making them think. Hit them with something they don’t expect.
My main concern is the front row. Eddie didn’t pick Mako Vunipola, who has played in five of the Saracens’ seven games this season. That decision rests right on Eddie’s shoulders if it backfires. My greatest hope is that this game will ignite the real England and inspire an achievement to last. I don’t think it’s far away.