Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Bench play crucial role in long season

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Blues replacement Rene Ranger on the bench during the opening match of Super Rugby season between the Blues and the Highlanders. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Blues replacement Rene Ranger on the bench during the opening match of Super Rugby season between the Blues and the Highlanders. Photo / Jason Oxenham

One of the big shifts in the game from the amateur days is the evolution of the bench and the fact all 23 players in the match day squad have big parts to play.

Before the professional era, you really only went to the bench to replace injured players.

The starting XV, including the front rowers, played the whole 80 minutes, but as the game has changed, so has the thinking about how to use substitutes effectively.

I hope it doesn't get like league's revolving door of players going on for 10 minutes and coming off again because that's not a true test of all the things you train for in terms of stamina.

But more rugby players at the top level are coming off just after halftime and going nowhere as deep into the game as they used to.

The bench will be very important in this competition and yesterday we saw how replacements can make a big difference in the Chiefs' victory over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

The Chiefs were under the pump at scrum time but coach Dave Rennie changed his front row in the second half and the contest changed completely to the point where the Jaguares struggled to win their own ball.

That's the impact good coaching and substitutes can have on the game. Replacement halfback Brad Webber also changed the way the Jaguares defended because all of a sudden he was a threat on the inside channel.

Players are changing the game for the positive and that's a mindset change. When I played, there was a feeling that "we'll put him on at the end of the game to keep him happy".

Coaches put players on for the final five minutes and it's hard to make any impact on a game in that time. Now it's completely different and it's important because this competition doesn't end until August.

The Highlanders showed in their win over the Waratahs in Sydney that they are one of the most impressive teams in the competition.

The Waratahs weren't in the same class and were fighting to make a game of it.

It's incredibly impressive that the Highlanders can perform at such a high standard playing away from Dunedin and they must be considered a good chance to defend their title.

The Blues can't get over the line away from home and that's a big worry for them. The problem is these early setbacks can be costly, as we saw with the Crusaders last year. This draw against the Reds could haunt them.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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