Winning is the only currency elite sports teams deal in, but both understand that to win requires total commitment to a designated game plan even when there are setbacks. There will be contrasting feelings in both camps after digesting what was one of the greatest Super 14 finals ever after Progress won 28-24. Progress must have feelings of elation and satisfaction and they are riding on the wave of an amazing victory. Swallows will be dejected and must accept the fact that they let themselves and their supporters down.
One key element stood between winning and losing – the bench. The atmosphere was electrifying at the Buffalo City Stadium in East London.
The Progress coach, Eric Toring, has mastered the art of making key changes to player personnel, not making changes for the sake of giving everyone a run, but calculated substitutions which are vital to their dominance over other teams. They do the hard yards and graft in the first half, then unleash their explosive bench players in the second. No team can match and keep up with the intensity for the entire 80 minutes. The same scenario was evident in the semi-final against African Bombers. Progress have class and pedigree but, most importantly, the BMT (Big Match Temperament). Most teams will never come back after trailing at half-time, but Progress have done it twice in consecutive weeks in do-or-die matches.
Progress’ Sachin Toring is key to that game plan. He proved it last week in the semis and again on Saturday he came on and changed the entire game. He scored a vital try when Progress was trailing 24-18. Another key factor was the boot of replacement flyhalf Jeandre Christians who slotted three penalties and a conversion for an 11-point haul – and all that coming from the bench. In total the Progress bench accumulated 16 points of the match score of 28. But that is not all. Man of the Match Riaan Arends was a late switch from wing to number 12 after an injury to one of the Progress players during warm-up. That was an inspired switch as he scored two brilliant tries in the first half.
On the other hand, Swallows can kick themselves for the substitutions they made and the tactical error of leaving out experienced Siyasanga Patti in such a crucial game when cool, calm heads were needed to face the pressure. Bee Zweni was crisp in his distribution and game management, so why he was substituted is anyone’s guess. Bangi Kobese coming in and playing at 10 was out of his depth. Swallows just did not have the bench at all. Their inability to kill off matches when leading came back to haunt them.
Swallows led 16-12 at halftime and were leading 24-18 with 10 minutes to go. This was no different from previous matches when they tended to let teams back in the second half, but only this time it was suicidal, and they paid a hefty price.
The impact of the bench can never be underestimated!