Schalk Brits’ Springbok inclusion is an inspired choice whether it be as a player or mentor, writes former Bok scrumhalf NEIL DE KOCK.
From a South African point of view, the first Test of the three-match series against England had everything. It was underscored by a really slow start, an incredible comeback and a nail-biting finish.
With 10 tries split evenly in the opening Test, it was incredible from an attacking perspective. However, there will be plenty of defensive work-ons from both teams heading into the second Test.
For the home side, part of the problem was that their defence was too narrow and, because there were a number of inexperienced personnel, players were caught out of position. Wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi enjoyed eye-catching debuts on attack, but they are still rough diamonds and will have to hone their craft on defence.
By all accounts, the Springboks’ defensive cohesion will come by being in the saddle and playing together continuously at Test level. Both defences were porous, but I would much rather have to mend my defence than ameliorate my attack. From experience, it’s far easier to fix defensive errors than become more creative on offence.
I foresee the Springboks continuing to play with the attacking ambition and zest displayed in the first Test. Rassie Erasmus will encourage his team to take the game to England and not try to defend a lead. In turn, England will work harder and smarter and, with defence coach Paul Gustard having re-watched the game six times, they will come up with some interesting plans for Saturday’s battle in Bloemfontein.
From a scrumhalf point of view, Faf de Klerk’s Man of the Match performance in the first Test was brilliant. I’m so glad he has been afforded the chance to stake a claim again after falling out of favour in 2017.
It’s wonderful to see Faf back in the mix and making that No 9 jersey his own. He has carried his form for the Sale Sharks through to the South African national team. The Springbok forwards gave him a good platform, but the speed at which he played the game was sublime. In a helter-skelter match, he sensed opportunity and backed himself every single time he had the ball. The livewire was everywhere and a constant threat to the English defence. He was also brave on defence and sound tactically. If he can continue his inspired form, it will be brilliant for South Africa.
Meanwhile, the Springboks have called up Brits ahead of the second Test. When Bismarck du Plessis was ruled out for the duration of the series, I felt it would open the door for a recently retired overseas-based hooker. The decision to include ‘Schalla’ is an inspired choice, whether it be adding value off the pitch as a mentor or on the pitch as a player. There is no doubt in my mind that he can definitely compete with the other hookers in the squad for game time. Schalk will make it very clear that he is here to vie for a playing berth, and rightly so, off the back of a stellar Premiership season.
Brits is one of those players who could potentially have played more Tests for his country (he has 10 caps) but sport is all about timing. Had he stayed at home, he probably would have played more Tests, but I don’t think he will have any regrets having decided to venture abroad nine years ago.
Schalk, who was on holiday in South Africa, now has an opportunity to add to his international tally because he has been in outstanding form for Saracens this season. Depending on how he performs over the next two weeks, the 37-year-old may be lured from a very short retirement. For the next fortnight at least, his retirement plan is on the backburner and he can’t get out the pipe and slippers.
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