With Faf de Klerk’s long-term Rugby Championship availability in doubt, game time must be distributed more evenly among South Africa’s scrumhalves, writes former Bok No 9 NEIL DE KOCK.
The decision by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus to select four scrumhalves in his 35-man Rugby Championship squad raised some eyebrows, but it has since come to light that he probably won’t be able to pick De Klerk during the latter part of the four-team tournament.
I’m a fan of the No 9s Erasmus has selected. He has counterbalanced youth in the form of Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl with experience in the shape of De Klerk and Ross Cronjé. The former are young players with so much to offer, but equally so much to learn. Meanwhile, the latter are more seasoned campaigners. Getting all the scrumhalves together makes sense because they can feed off one another, which forms part of the learning process.
Off the back of the June series against England and based on current form, De Klerk is South Africa’s premier scrumhalf. However, it’s pleasing to see the return of Cronjé, who can mentor the young No 9s when De Klerk departs for club duty in the UK.
However, Cronjé can also add value on a playing front. He’s been one of the most consistent performers for the Lions in recent years. He has played at a top level for a team that has reached three consecutive Super Rugby finals, which is no mean feat.
The 29-year-old’s selection in the national squad wasn’t met with glowing praise from the broader rugby public, but he is a big-game player, who contributed very well to the national team cause during Allister Coetzee’s second year at the helm. In terms of gameplay, it’s harsh to label Cronjé a predictable player, with slow service from the base of the ruck. In my view, it’s unfair to be too critical of him because he has done well this season and has stepped up.
De Klerk has been named to start against Argentina in Durban on Saturday and the No 9 jersey is his for now. However, the other scrumhalves in the squad are putting pressure on him, which is always healthy for South African rugby.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a lot of Papier and Van Zyl playing at the highest level for South Africa, with Cronjé and De Klerk having dominated the scrumhalf spot. The latter, who started all three Tests in June, possesses the energy and impetus to break up a game and turn it on its proverbial head.
But, with the uncertainty surrounding De Klerk’s participation for the duration of the Championship, it would be wise to afford the other 9s more game time at Test level, which is a step up from Super Rugby. In an ideal world, it would be great to pick exclusively from our local crop and many feel we have good enough players within the country to do so.
If you take the June Test series against the English as a case in point, the Springbok management group erred on the side of caution and brought in playing personnel with the necessary experience to get them the desired results. For now, there is value in utilising foreign-based players to pump up our reserves in certain positions, but perhaps three years from now, we may no longer see any overseas-based players turning out for the Springboks.
The club versus country tug-of-war is a reality because rugby clubs are businesses in this day and age. Players are torn because they have the opportunity to represent their countries but, at the same time, they want to prove their allegiance to their paymasters at club level. At this stage, it seems as if SA Rugby and the respective foreign clubs involved in the matter have come to an understanding whereby both parties will benefit, or at least one won’t lose out too much.
However, when the scales tip too heavily in favour of one party, World Rugby will need to set a precedent and enforce one rule of thumb, so as to eliminate the grey area.
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