Springboks could go forward-heavy against Ireland

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FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union – Rugby Championship – South Africa v New Zealand – Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa – August 13, 2022 South Africa’s Handre Pollard in action REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – South Africa will not rule out a 7-1 split between forwards and backs on their bench for the highly anticipated World Cup clash with Ireland on Saturday, director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said as he confirmed flyhalf Handre Pollard will not play.

There were eye-brows raised when the Springboks went with a 7-1 split against New Zealand in their record 35-7 warm-up victory in London last month, but on that occasion it was explained by a late injury to fullback Willie le Roux.

It might well be mind games, but Erasmus says it is something they are thinking about for the Pool B encounter in Paris, with the forward muscle off the bench allowing them to physically subdue their opponents for 80 minutes.

“I don’t think we can go 8-0, that is a bit extreme, but 7-1 is definitely an option,” Erasmus told reporters on Monday, suggesting the Boks have versatile forwards who can play in the backline if needed.

“The 6-2 a couple of years back was new to people and now a lot of teams are doing it. If you go 7-1 you have to have players like (loose-forward) Kwagga Smith, someone that is used to playing at the sevens level against Fiji.”

But Erasmus warned that Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton would be the perfect man to exploit any injuries that left the Boks needing to plug holes with players in unfamiliar positions.

“He is vital in my opinion,” Erasmus said. “Whenever Johnny is in the team a lot of things happen. The aura he has about him is exceptional, not just for his own team but it is very intimidating for us as the opposition.”

Erasmus says Pollard, who has overcome a calf problem and has been brought into the squad to replace injured hooker Malcolm Marx, will only be considered for the Boks’ final pool game against Tonga.

“He has just played his first 40 minutes in 14-15 weeks for Leicester and that was the initial reason why we couldn’t bring him to the World Cup because there was a lot of return to training that wasn’t done and return to play.”

Erasmus also refuted reports back home he would quit the Boks for Ireland after the World Cup.

“No, I won’t be,” he said. “There have been no talks and there is no truth in that. I am not sure where it (the rumours) started but definitely not.”

(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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