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30th Aug 2023

Matt Williams says controversial Springbok tactic ‘against the spirit of the game’

Patrick McCarry

Matt Williams

The former Leinster, Ulster and Scotland coach is not a happy camper.

Matt Williams has railed against a replacements bench strategy that South Africa have taken to extreme levels, saying it is ‘against the spirit of the game’.

The Australian was speaking on the VMTV Rugby podcast and used the platform to highlight the Springbok side going with seven forwards and just one back on their bench during their recent blow-out win against New Zealand.

‘Totally against player safety’ – Matt Williams

South Africa inflicted a record Test defeat, 35-7, against the All Blacks during their World Cup warm-up at Twickenham, on August 25.

For that game, Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber selected seven forwards on his bench, with Cobus Reinach the sole back. Marco van Staden and Kwagga Smith, two reserve flankers, could have perhaps covered centre if the need arose but they ended up coming on as forwards.

We have seen the 6:2 [forwards to backs] bench split before, but the 7:1 is an altogether different beast. It is a gamble, and a big ask for the seven backs to stay healthy, but almost allows an entire forward pack to be brought into the game. Matt Williams told the VMTV Rugby podcast:

“World Rugby should have seen this coming because for years teams – not just South Africa but France – were picking a six-two bench. It should never have been allowed get to this. All World Rugby had to say was ‘Three of your bench have to be recognised backs‘. That’s all they had to do and this problem would not be there.

“What South Africa did the other day I think is totally against the spirit of the game, and certainly totally against player safety. I am just totally against this.

“World Rugby should act in the next week and say ‘During the World Cup, you need three recognised backs on your bench’ – problem over. The fact that they haven’t, South Africa are not breaking any rules.

“It is a blight on the game that needs to be stopped now. What’s going to happen is exactly what happened on Saturday. The outside backs should have bought tickets in the stand because they were just spectators. South Africa played the game between their forwards and their scrum-half. They’ve got quality backs, quality players right across the team. It is not the way the game should be played, nor is it in the spirit of the game.”

Matt WilliamsThe South Africa bench (right) that Matt Williams was not happy with.

“South Africa are opening themselves up to karma and believe me, there is karma in rugby,” Matt Williams added.

“Karma means if you’ve only got one back on your bench and you get two injuries or a sin bin or a sending off, you’re in serious trouble. The South Africans are rolling the dice. Murphy’s Law is another way of putting it – what can go wrong, will go wrong.”

South Africa are scheduled to face Ireland in Stade de France, Paris, on September 23, during the World Cup group stages.


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