In the third instalment of a six-part series, JON CARDINELLI highlights the Springboks’ quality in depth and where the world champions can improve in the next four-year cycle.
In early 2018, after it had been accepted that Rassie Erasmus would replace Allister Coetzee, another rumour started to circulate regarding the new coach’s preferred scrumhalf. After more than a year in the international wilderness, Faf de Klerk was set for a recall.
Back then, there was a dearth of experienced South African scrumhalves at Test and even Super Rugby level. When I interviewed Erasmus shortly after his official appointment, however, he was optimistic about the situation in South Africa and told me to keep an eye of De Klerk and Cobus Reinach abroad.
The Boks have come a long way in this department over a period of two years. De Klerk has proved a key part of the Bok gameplan, as seen in the big games of the Rugby Championship and at the 2019 World Cup. Reinach has enjoyed few opportunities, but has made every single one of them count. Indeed, who could forget his hat-trick against Canada last year – the fastest in World Cup history.
Herschel Jantjies was backed to start on debut in the opening game of the Rugby Championship. The calculated risk paid off handsomely. Jantjies made some game-changing plays in that tournament and produced several explosive cameos from the bench at the World Cup.
And yet De Klerk and Jantjies could both be described as a work in progress. De Klerk will become more consistent as his Test career progresses. Jantjies is only into his second season of Super Rugby, let alone Test rugby. The best is yet to come.
|2019 WORLD CUP SQUAD MEMBERS
|FAF DE KLERK (30), HERSCHEL JANJTIES (10), COBUS REINACH (14)
|HANDRE POLLARD (48), ELTON JANTJIES (37)
|OTHER SQUAD MEMBERS 2018-2019
|EMBROSE PAPIER (7), IVAN VAN ZYL (6)
|CURWIN BOSCH (2), ROBERT DU PREEZ (1)
*Test caps in brackets
What’s more, thanks to Erasmus’ decision to experiment in 2018, the Boks will have more than three options at No 9 over the next four years. Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl were backed in several big Tests. While they did not travel to the 2019 World Cup, they are still very much on the radar.
Louis Schreuder has been solid for an innovative and largely successful Sharks side this season. That said, rookie Sanele Nohamba has looked more explosive when introduced from the bench. It surely won’t be long before Nohamba graduates to the Bok set-up.
The Boks travelled to the World Cup with two specialist 10s but needed only one in their 23 for the duration of the playoffs. Handre Pollard started the big games while Elton Jantjies was asked to focus on an – admittedly important – off-field role.
The Boks can get away with a policy like that when there are no significant injuries. If both Pollard and Jantjies broke down at the World Cup, Erasmus would have been forced to start Frans Steyn or Damian Willemse. Steyn hasn’t started a Test at flyhalf in over a decade while Willemse is yet to wear the No 10 shirt for the Boks.
Going forward, the coaches will need to strike a better balance in selection and develop two or three more alternatives.
Pollard should continue to start the big matches. Now 26, the Bok flyhalf could go on to feature at the next two World Cups.
Jantjies needs more game time, though, if he’s to viewed as a viable alternative to Pollard. The Lions star was used sparingly by the Boks in 2018 and 2019.
A third-choice player might not get many chances in the next few years unless there are injuries. And yet, it’s important that he is exposed to the responsibilities and challenges of the starting position sooner rather than later.
Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch has been one of the standout performers in the 2020 Super Rugby tournament. His decision-making and line-kicking skills have complemented the Sharks’ gameplan, while his accurate goal-kicking under pressure has often allowed his side to take control of many a contest.
The debate about Willemse’s best position continues to rage. One wouldn’t be surprised if he serves in more than one area for the Boks over the next four years.
The Boks will benefit from utility players like Willemse and Steyn in their squad. Sooner or later, however, the gifted youngster must be allowed to settle on one position in order to realise his potential.
Photo: Steve Haag – Hollywood Bets/Getty Images/Gallo Images/BackpagePix