will stuart
Benchwarmer. Pine-rider. Finisher. Impact player. Replacement. Sub.

It's time to reappraise the role of the Supersub, with this year's Six Nations Fantasy Rugby about to drop.

During last year's World Cup, we saw how the All Blacks responded to the Springboks ‘Bomb Squad’ with their own ‘Easy Company’, suggesting a further shift in the modern perception of numbers 16 to 23.

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A look at the replacements made by Guinness Six Nations teams against Tier One nations since 2020 paints a revealing portrait of how effectively certain individuals have been deployed from the bench – and how that might influence your own Supersub selection in Fantasy Rugby.

In a way, France have had a one-man Bomb Squad in Romain Taofifenua, the second row whose 49 caps included 25 from the bench. Way out in front of any other player with his 700 minutes as a replacement, in that time he made 63 carries – second only to Jack Conan’s 70 – and led the way with tackles (107), dominant (eight), and turnovers (eight). Opponents in the Championship will be glad to see the back of Taofifenua now that the twenty-stone Lyon forward has retired from international duty, but is there anyone likely to feature in 2024 with anywhere close to the same effect from the bench?

In short, the answer is no, but the player with the second most replacement appearances is Scotland tighthead prop WP Nel, 19 of whose 61 caps have been as a sub. In his 367 minutes as a replacement, Nel has made 63 tackles (joint-fifth highest). Another Frenchman who clearly needs little prompting to come off the bench is Taofifefenua’s Lyon teammate, tighthead Demba Bamba. The 25-year-old is fourth for carries (46), and top for defenders beaten (13 – more than Nick Tompkins’ 12 or Blair Kinghorn’s 11), making him a good option for the cultured fantasy player’s bench.

Another number three, England’s Will Stuart, lies third in the list of most replacement appearances (18), and has a decent return for biding his time: two tries and joint-fourth in turnovers won (four). Irish flanker Conan has been a cornerstone of Ireland’s recent campaigns, and his work with the ball in hand has been devastating late in the game, carrying a table-topping 70 times for 235 metres, second only to Scotland’s galloping playmaker Kinghorn. Conan has also made the fifth most tackles (63) and scored twice.

France hooker Peato Mauvaka has made 17 replacement appearances, playing 477 minutes off the bench. In that time, he has gained 176 metres (fourth highest), made the joint-most line breaks alongside Jalibert, and stands fourth on most turnovers won (four). Talk about having an ace up your sleeve.

Scotland fly-half Blair Kinghorn has proved good value for money from the bench, topping the metres gained chart with 271 (36m more than Conan, in second place), and beating 11 defenders, as mentioned earlier. He’s also made three line breaks, and leads the way with in average gain (9.7m). France fly-half Matthieu Jalibert has used his time very wisely when coming on for Romain Ntamack, making a joint-top four line breaks and gaining 188 metres (third).

Livewire Wales scrum-half Tomos Williams has proven himself deadly coming on in the second half, with five try assists and three tries – both more than any other player – and three line breaks (joint-second).

The question on many fans’ lips looking ahead to 2024 is how Marcus Smith might be used by England head coach Steve Borthwick. Will he be put on for fullback Freddie Steward late in the game and carve up? Food for thought.