No substitute for timing when it comes to fresh legs
RUGBY ANALYSIS:When is Seán Cronin better than Richardt Strauss? Clearly the Ireland management believed that at 5.30pm last Saturday Strauss was their number one. However, as the game unfolded at what stage should Cronin be deemed better and therefore good enough to take over? Should it be after 10 minutes, 20, 30 . . . ?
In professional rugby the timing of a substitution has become a template. Usually it’s done on 60 minutes or, if you’re Irish, disgracefully, with just minutes to go.
In broadening the value of the substitute, you can add others such as Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Donncha O’Callaghan and especially Michael Bent. What is the best time for their introduction?
Strangely the answer could be after 10 minutes or not at all. There are few sides in world rugby that can physically dominate as the Springboks can; next week’s Argentina side are one but the Boks are best at battering.
Come half-time they recalibrated their rugby back 30 years to the days of “Nasty Booter” Naas Botha, with Pat Lambie taking up the route one Botha boot.
As this battering unfolded I marvelled at two players in Irish jerseys – the props, Cian Healy and Mike Ross.
Healy was fighting for every square inch on the pitch in a manner that would have made coach Tony D’Amato happy. At one stage he contorted his body into a dead ruck, intent through some superhuman effort to reverse the Springbok tide and come out with the ball.
After all that he was able to scrap with energy with the ball as well, gaining twice as many yards as Springbok winger Francois Hougaard.
Poor box kicks
As Ireland lost possession cheaply from poor box kicks and inaccurate handling (such as a one-handed spill or the pass into touch), I wondered did these backs fully understand the effort Healy and others put into getting the ball in the first place? It is a hanging offence to lose the ball in such a manner.
Use of the ball, combined with ball retention and instinct is something I’ll leave till next week, as today is all about the bench and the plan for next week.
Ross dipped well into his reserves to muster 70 minutes against a combined 240kg (nearly 40 stone) in CJ van der Linde (prop) and Adriaan Strauss (hooker) before Heinke van der Merwe arrived. At one stage Ross was visibly shaking, with sweat pouring from every pore.
Both Irish props were exceptional to survive so long – as too was Richardt Strauss.
Interestingly, after the physical toll on the Irish, it was the Springbok gargoyles who were first to drip feed out of the fixture, starting with tighthead Jannie du Plessis on 55 minutes, with the arrival of van der Merwe minutes later.