Cobus Reinach can be an asset for the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
We’re sitting in the lobby of the Springboks’ plush hotel in Cardiff. The tour to Europe has passed by in a blur, and Cobus Reinach has scored two tries and collected a Man of the Match accolade in the Test against Italy. Against every expectation, the Sharks scrumhalf is the success story of the Boks’ four-game sojourn to the northern hemisphere.
Reinach is not about to apologise for his efforts and exploits, although he is well aware of a scrumhalf pecking order that was until recently cast in stone. World Cup-winner Fourie du Preez missed most of the Test season because of an ankle injury, while Ruan Pienaar’s knee ailment precluded him from playing on the recent tour. Third-choice Francois Hougaard started against Ireland in Dublin, but would pay the price for a poor individual display.
If fit, Du Preez will travel to the 2015 tournament as the Boks’ first-choice scrumhalf. The smart money is on Heyneke Meyer selecting Pienaar as his understudy. Who Meyer takes as the third scrumhalf is less certain, especially after Reinach’s performances against England, Italy and Wales. Reinach has chipped away at Meyer’s plan, and has established himself as a strong candidate for that 31-man World Cup squad.
Meyer has every reason to back Reinach over Hougaard, given the former made such an impact in the northern hemisphere this past November. Forget the pre-tour predictions that the inclement weather and heavy underfoot conditions would hamper Reinach’s strengths and expose his weaknesses.
On the contrary, it was on this tour where he came of age.
Bok attack coach Johann van Graan has marvelled at the 24-year-old’s progress. He notes that Reinach was a brilliant runner from broken play in the 2014 Super Rugby competition, but has since worked to become a more rounded player.
‘His passing on tour was excellent, as was his decision-making and tactical kicking,’ says Van Graan. ‘He proved a point, not only that he wants to be there, but that he deserves to be.
‘The thing I like about Cobus is that he backs himself. A lot of people played it down, but it doesn’t get much bigger than starting your first Test match at Twickenham in front of 80 000 people. The pressure doesn’t get any bigger than that. And he was brilliant.’
‘His passing on tour was excellent, as was his decision-making and tactical kicking' – Johann van Graan
Reinach remembers his first Test start in vivid detail.
‘Coach Heyneke told me I’d get my chance at some point, and getting it at Twickenham was unbelievable. I know I came on tour as the fourth-choice scrumhalf, but I always believed I could make a contribution. I told the guys I was lucky to be on the end of that final pass from Willie le Roux [which resulted in an important try], but then that’s what a scrumhalf does. You always need to be working off the ball.
‘I learned a lot in those four weeks,’ Reinach continues. ‘In the wet conditions, you learn to control the game, manage it, when to speed it up, when to slow it down, when to kick, when to run. You have to find balance. It’s a tougher game, generally much slower and physical at the rucks. You have to adapt quickly.
‘The Italy game was a different beast. I felt things went well against England, even though the conditions were wet. We played well as a team. I wasn’t under pressure, except when I kicked. Against Italy, they pulled me into the ruck and tried to make it messy. It was good in a way as I will be more prepared next time.
‘I’ve been working on my kicking for a few years, and I will keep working at it. You can’t stop working on your basics. And in the northern hemisphere, kicking is so vital. You also need to execute in a game situation when you are under pressure.’
Reinach and Sharks teammate Pat Lambie were on point in the clash against England at Twickenham. At this stage, it appears as if Meyer will back Lambie as the first-choice No 10 for the 2015 World Cup. Reinach reveals that Lambie has played no small part in his own progress. While they are both very different players, Reinach feels they have the perfect partnership.
‘Pat is a calm guy, whereas I can get excited and emotional. He calms me down. Every 9 needs a 10 like that, who can tell you what to do, because your head is in the ruck and his is up. I think we’ve made a good combo.’
What was surprising on the recent tour was the quality of Reinach’s tactical kicking. It was a weakness during the 2014 Super Rugby tournament, and it was feared he wouldn’t cut it in the northern hemisphere where a more tactical approach is required. And yet Reinach passed the tactical test this past November. The hard work has evidently paid off.
‘I don’t want to be seen as a No 9 who is only good at kicking, or only good on attack. I want to be known as an all-rounder,’ he says. ‘It’s all about finding the right balance. Every game is different, and you can’t go into every game with the same game plan. Conditions and the opponents need to be taken into account. Maybe a decisive No 9, that’s what I want to be.’
Van Graan reveals that Reinach has done as much work off the pitch as he has on it.
‘His dedication off the field has been impressive. What people won’t see is how much time he spends analysing opposition, And then he’s been able to put a lot of that into practice. The opposition is wary of what he can do around the rucks, and that is creating chances for guys on his outside. We saw that against Australia at Newlands and on the end-of-year tour. He finished some great tries, but he is also putting teammates through holes.’
Reinach feels he took his opportunity in Europe, proving to Meyer and company that he can excel in difficult conditions. However, he is not about to become complacent, and aims to use the coming Super Rugby tournament to further his case for World Cup inclusion.
‘I want to put my name down for that World Cup squad, to play well enough that the coach will want to pick me. I’m lucky I had the opportunity in November. There are a few players coming back from injuries in 2015, so you are never certain of your place.
‘I want to be the next No 9. It’s my goal to be at the World Cup, so I have no choice but to keep playing and improving in the next few months.’
– This article first appeared in the January-February 2015 issue of SA Rugby magazine