Cape Town - Remember the days of old - not even that old - when a rugby team’s reserves tended to be limited to a specialist hooker and scrumhalf, who took up chairs in quite sedentary fashion on the grandstand?
Times have changed enormously in the professional era, of course, not least through greater medical-safety responsibility: the substitute hooker would no longer have to deputise as a prop, just for one thing ... a special relief if he happens to be more of the run-around kind and not a physical behemoth.
The staffing complement on the bench has boomed, too … currently to eight for international purposes, leaving virtually all positional bases covered, and the whole jargon about the blokes on the wood has evolved with it.
They’re no longer considered too specifically or crudely the second-best options; benches provide “impact” or are deemed the “finishers”.
One of the pivotal reasons, arguably, why the Springboks of the last two years have looked such a revitalised force is head coach Rassie Erasmus’s creation of a truly squad-based conviction and ethic, rather than the assumption of some sort of elite XV automatically ruling the roost.
As much as he has rotated players deftly - important when you have several berths enjoying the luxury of at least two truly world-class staffing factors, as the RWC 2019 Boks undoubtedly do - he has made his substitutes very much feel a strong component of the greater cause.
This year, especially, during the hitherto unbeaten Test run, intensity has tended not to drop one notch when Erasmus has made his second-half changes, and often enough even cranked up to a hugely beneficial extent.
There is noticeable potency - and consistency - to the bench brigade once more for Saturday’s RWC Pool B-opening humdinger against the All Blacks at Yokohama (11:45 SA time), probably to the extent of trumping the New Zealanders’ equivalent troops.
That the Boks have a particularly strong feel of stability about them at present is reflected in the not unimportant fact that every single one of their substitutes had those same roles in the last bilateral meeting - a 16-16 result that was naturally a better one for the eventually trophy-bagging Boks in Wellington during the 2019 Rugby Championship.
Plus the very same eight - Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn and Jesse Kriel - operated in the identical capacity in the Boks’ last outing ahead of this titanic one ... the useful, avenging exercise against host nation Japan a fortnight ago.
So just “culturally”, at present, these players are thoroughly attuned to what they must do when infused as super-subs, and ready to hit the ground at pace.
Over in the All Black camp, there has a more pronounced shuffling of resources - both first XV and bench - in recent times.
In that Cake Tin tussle on July 27, for example, the New Zealand bench contained only two members of the reserves chosen for this Saturday’s World Cup encounter: props Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Angus Ta’avao.
Helped by the enormous history of loose-head prop Mtawarira, with his 111 Test appearances, the Bok reserves collectively have an edge in experience (377 caps to 305) and it would be difficult for anyone to dispute that the five-strong pack component has an advantage in proven quality and current reputation over the NZ rivals.
The fact that the entire front row, for example, is just about as potent as the first-choice one (Messrs Kitshoff, Marx and Malherbe) could give the Boks a game-long mastery at scrum-time.
Admittedly things look a bit more even (or slight advantage All Blacks, for sheer big-game wisdom?) among the backline subs.
Remember, though, that while the New Zealanders’ combative scrumhalf TJ Perenara positively towers over young Jantjies for Test experience, his South African foe is one of the most exciting “arrivals” on the global scene during 2019 thus far and looking to build on that hallmark in Japan ...
Bok bench with cap tallies: Bongi Mbonambi (30), Tendai Mtawarira (111), Trevor Nyakane (41), RG Snyman (16), Francois Louw (69), Herschel Jantjies (4), Frans Steyn (61), Jesse Kriel (45)
All Black bench with cap tallies: Codie Taylor (45), Ofa Tuúngafasi (30), Angus Ta’avao (8), Patrick Tuipulotu (25), Shannon Frizell (5), TJ Perenara (59), Sonny Bill Williams (53), Ben Smith (80)
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel
15 Beauden Barrett 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Ben Smith
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