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SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: How England Can Defuse South Africa’s ‘Bomb Squad’ In Saturday’s Grudge Match

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: How England can defuse South Africa’s ‘bomb squad’ – high pace, keep the ball in play and hope we don’t miss Mako Vunipola too much in the front row

  • Rassie Erasmus pioneered the six-two division from forwards to backs on the bench
  • Erasmus often appoints six top forwards as substitutes so he can bring them in
  • The theory goes that South Africa’s first-choice group then ends up on the playing field
  • Eddie Jones must figure out how to defuse the ‘bomb squad’ if England wants to win


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Rassie Erasmus will not be at Twickenham on Saturday; indeed, if his ban is upheld, he will miss the Boks’ game days until late next summer, but his legacy will be clearly on the table.

Let’s put aside the bullshit that ruined a disappointing series by the Lions and led to their ban this week.

I want to acknowledge that he is a smart and influential coach and while South Africa has not always been easy to see beneath him, he won the World Cup, beat the Lions and after a slump at the Rugby Championship, he signed with a great victory over New Zealand.

Rassie Erasmus' South African team successfully pioneered the use of the 'bomb squad' tactic

Rassie Erasmus’ South African team successfully pioneered the use of the ‘bomb squad’ tactic

Springboks often replace their entire front row very early in the second half;  The theory is that it is advantageous to finish the game with the first-choice forwards on the field.

Springboks often replace their entire front row very early in the second half;  The theory is that it is advantageous to finish the game with the first-choice forwards on the field.

Springboks often replace their entire front row very early in the second half; The theory is that it is advantageous to finish the game with the first-choice forwards on the field.

Having dealt quite comfortably with Wales and Scotland, they look to end an epic season by beating England. My instinct is to rage against his famous bomb squad.

Too many replacements are allowed in rugby and the battle is tilted to find out not only who is the best team, but also who is the fittest team for 80 minutes.

However, the laws are as they are and the smart coach recognizes this, although he may not agree with them. So I can only say that his presentation of the bomb squad, five or six quality forwards from the bench early in the second half, has proven to be masterful in most cases.

Most of the games between the best nations are very even in 50 minutes, the margin is one score or less. That means that almost all the games between the best countries are decided in the last half hour.

So it’s only fitting that some of your best players show up during that last half hour, firing at full blast. If you can bring in a forward five and maybe even a running back that’s better than the ones on the field, it makes a huge difference.

South Africa is probably the only team on the planet with the strength in depth to pull it off. Your front row options at the bank are, in my eyes, better than your starting front row.

England coach Eddie Jones will have to find a way to defuse the inevitable bomb squad.

England coach Eddie Jones will have to find a way to defuse the inevitable bomb squad.

England coach Eddie Jones will have to find a way to defuse the inevitable bomb squad.

Franco Mostert is also one of the best blocks in the world and his defender will lose nothing with the presentation of Jasper Wiese. So the theory is fine, but getting it to work is the tricky part because you’re dealing with big egos and perceived norms.

The initial front row has to accept the plan and acknowledge that the guys on the bench are probably the first choices. That also means the guys on the bench have to swallow their pride and accept that they won’t start big games.

This will take some getting used to and requires careful management by the rugby manager and coach.

I once tried something similar in Rome against Italy. Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Phil Vickery weren’t impressed and didn’t see the need to make such a fuss.

I gave up the experiment, it was a step too far at the time, but I secretly longed to do it again against a really great team like the Boks in South Africa or France in Paris. That would have been the litmus test.

So how do you combat those tactics and defuse the bomb squad? The key is to start fast and make sure the game doesn’t close with half an hour to go. Get South Africa out of your comfort zone and play by the plan. Don’t let the game unfold as they wish.

I think England look light in the front row and might miss out on the Mako Vunipola prop experience

I think England look light in the front row and might miss out on the Mako Vunipola prop experience

I think England look light in the front row and might miss out on the Mako Vunipola prop experience

England need to come out of the blocks fast, play at a high pace and be clinical. It will require an intense and concentrated effort. And they need to greatly increase the playing time of the ball. It was too low against Australia.

That would be good for South Africa. England must accelerate everything because, after a brilliant start against the Australians, they were dragged into a slow game that did not play to their strengths with a division behind led by Marcus Smith.

While I’m not a fan of multiphase attacks for their sake, at least when you retain possession, the opposition has to dance to your beat. That could lead to rewards later in the game.

The package must ensure that scrums are fast and efficient without the endless restarts that take large amounts of game time. If you are going to concede possession on your shot, it is better to do it quickly and restart the game than to spend two minutes circling.

You beat the Boks by matching them across all departments early on, keeping the tempo up, stretching the play, and getting them thinking. Hit them with something they don’t expect.

My biggest concern is the front row. Eddie has not chosen Mako Vunipola, who has played in five of the Saracens’ seven games this season. That decision falls squarely on Eddie’s shoulders if it backfires. My greatest hope is that this game ignites the real England and inspires a performance for all ages. I don’t think it’s very far.

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