Across all of last weekends June Internationals, most observers will agree – the sport is proving to be an 23 man game. In the majority of matches, strategic use of replacement players will have been in the game plan. Attack minded rugby substitutes are now the All Blacks weapon of choice, as evident this weekend by two special players.
Eight substitutes are available, and if not every single team but all Tier One rugby nations, have taken on the use of each as a positive. Used once to replace fatigued players, but now as much….horses for courses! The type of player is chosen, who can bring rewards to the bench role.
The big props, locks and flankers can bring their brute strength and attitude, as the halves and outside backs bring speed and special skills that seem dominate the highlight reels. Two names are easy to pinpoint from the weekend: Damian McKenzie and Ngani Laumape
Attack minded rugby substitutes are All Blacks weapon of choice
With the precise use of replacements, both the starting and substitute players, know they are part of a play. While the exact minute can be both ‘anyones guess’ as well as planned-for actions [timed for player welfare management] either choice still means you want as good as a player, coming into the game.
So for the All Blacks, who are still unbeatable at Eden Park after last weekends win over France, it is very much a ‘weapon of choice’. And why not – with supreme talent limiting the first choice selections, what comfort it is to bring in such an armoury of players.
Such is the quality of a Damian McKenzie – a starter for many other nations – and for Ngani Laumape. The midfielder who is still only in his formative years, is a jackhammer who can bore his way through a defensive line.
Damian McKenzie was born to fill the role played by Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks' 22 shirt during the 2015 RWC cycle.
1 try + 1 try assist in 19 mins. 5 clean breaks on 5 carries, with 4 defenders beaten and an average gain of 23.4m.
— The Chase (@thechasesport) June 9, 2018
The highlights package showed McKenzie motoring his way around many of the outside backs. His legs a blur, streaming away in a similar role that Beauden Barrett once held, as he scored one try. McKenzie then set up another for Laumape, who finished that movement off with a bullocking run that saw Maxime Medard bounced off in a flailing attempt to stop him.
Pace and Power shows All Blacks weapons of choice
Laumape said on AllBlacks.com “It was awesome to get out there. The boys who started off the game did all the hard work. It was satisfying.”
If the focus stays on the backs, then mention should be made for TJ Perenara. He too brought speed and enthusiasm, that supported the expert passing and dynamism that Aaron Smith had shown for the opening 60 minutes.
But rugby substitutions are not only for the exciting backline players to flourish.
Many front rowers today, also make big impacts. So when brand new All Black prop Karl Tu’inukuafe made such a terrific impression at his very first International scrum, all forwards gave him the thumbs up. He strode out, grimaced and pumped-up, won a scrum penalty to help change the games momentum.
Not sure if that look which Karl Tu'inukuafe showed last Saturday night #NZLvFRA was pure emotion….a grimace towards the opposition….or, just the way forwards show they are happy nowadays.
But he was a #SuperSub for sure. Well don mate #ABdebut pic.twitter.com/qfaxRkEt4c
— #RugbyNewZealand (@RugbyNZ_) June 12, 2018
His sub supported the choice of such a ‘green Super Rugby teenager.’ His introduction reinforced that every player should make an impact off the bench.
Although, if by comparison, some of the French and in fact, some Irish bench players did not demonstrate that impact.
French and Irish bench players show less impact
Still a key attribute of any side, good selections can all play their part. So for France, the choice was to begin with Kevin Gourdon or Bernard Le Roux. The calls to start will need to have been supported by their replacement. Yet, it seemed like few French rugby substitutes offered their team that same impact.
Some at times, are due to injury. So when Keith Earls was taken off for an HIA in the AUSvIRE match, his substitute Jordan Lamour was the ideal fit. Young and enthusiastic, Lamour may have been utilized later, anyway so his inclusion was only moved forward – rather than as a ‘back up’. And other substitutes, are due to wanting to increase the attack.
Joey Carbery will have learned plenty from his experience at 10 but it's now time for Johnny Sexton to lead the show. https://t.co/UqEj59DZqV
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) June 12, 2018
So when Joey Carbery was taken off for the more senior Jonathon Sexton, it was to ‘change the theme’. To alter the attack. And at times it seemed to pay an advantage, but with several attempted tries ruled out by the TMO, the end result sadly did not change the result. Sexton could not show his Leinster form, while the key Australian backline stayed in place – an argument for continuity, over replacement for replacement’s sake.
Even England had mixed results with substitutes. When Brad Shields replaced Nick Isiekwe, it must have been strategic. But as Shields is no lock [unlike Maro Itoje, who covers lock/loosie] the result did not show as much reward. At times in the modern game with injury, a flanker can play at lock but, against South Africa Eddie Jones played his cards early….and it did not payoff.
All International teams now need well timed, quality rugby substitutes
If not every team, but especially every Tier One nations, must work hard to plan and to maximize their rugby substitutes. They are the key – as much as the remedy – to staying ahead, as much as when ‘playing catch up’.
England very nearly completed that particular strategy. Men like Nathan Hughes entering the game at the right moment was of benefit. Yet, Eddie Jones waiting too long; until the 76th minute, to introduce his backline subs [Denny Solomona and Ben Spencer]. That was the wrong course, as the replacements could not act as effectively as McKenzie and Laumape had.
For teams who find that they have the strength available on the bench, the benefits can only be found if those men add value. New Zealand are certainly benefiting the most with that value, utilizing their rugby substitutes as ‘weapons of choice’. The fireworks go off when they enter the match, and France (and opponents in The Rugby Championship) must find a way to match…or better, that strength.
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