With Cobus Reinach ruled out of the upcoming series against Wales, DYLAN JACK mulls who the Springboks might call on to serve as Faf de Klerk’s scrumhalf deputy.
Out of the three players who will miss the three-Test series against Wales in July, undoubtedly Reinach’s absence will be the most keenly felt when the Springboks return to action.
Reinach suffered a dislocated shoulder while playing for Montpellier against Harlequins in the European Challenge Cup two weeks ago. Montpellier confirmed the 32-year-old will undergo surgery in South Africa on Wednesday, which will keep him out of action for between three to four months.
Joining Reinach on the sidelines, is wing Sbu Nkosi (broken ankle) and lock RG Snyman (knee), neither of whom are expected to be ready to face Wales in time for the three Tests in Pretoria (2 July), Bloemfontein (9 July) and Cape Town (16 July).
While the Springboks have more than enough cover among the outside backs and locks playing both domestically and abroad, scrumhalf could be another issue entirely – especially when you look at how Jacques Nienaber utilised his halfback options in 2021.
De Klerk is quite clearly the preferred starting option and, having successfully returned to the field from injury in February, he will start in the first two Tests against Wales, barring another injury or a dramatic loss of form. The 30-year-old has picked up five try assists in eight Premiership matches for Sale Sharks, so his current form is also not worth worrying about.
Next in line is Herschel Jantjies and, despite some inconsistent performances for the Stormers in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, the 26-year-old should resume his role as the impact scrumhalf off the bench.
Even though he started two games on the outgoing tour to the UK last year – against Wales and Scotland – Jantjies was on the bench for all three Tests against the British & Irish Lions, the four away Tests against Australia and New Zealand and the Twickenham Test against England.
Reinach’s absence will have a fascinating impact on the scrumhalf dynamics, given that Nienaber viewed him as the preferred starter in De Klerk’s absence.
So, will the Bok coaches choose to call up somebody, like De Klerk, who can lay the platform with a dominant and accurate kicking performance, or will they call up somebody more in the impact player role?
Looking at the options in the URC, both Sharks scrumhalves – Jaden Hendrikse and Grant Williams – were involved in the Bok squad last year. Hendrikse made a try-scoring debut in the first Test against Argentina in Gqeberha, before an injury the following weekend brought a premature end to his season. The underrated Williams was called up to replace Hendrikse in the squad for the away leg of the Rugby Championship and was retained for the end-of-year tour, but did not get any game time.
At the Vodacom Bulls, Embrose Papier has put in some electric performances as he looks to earn a recall, having not played a Test match since the 2018 tour of the UK. The 25-year-old was supplanted in 2019 by Herschel Jantjies, having previously played a similar role as an impact player off the pine. Papier has been ably supported at the Bulls by Zak Burger, who, when given his starting opportunity, has been impressive.
If the Springboks are looking for someone to attack like De Klerk, they could do far worse than turning to the Lions and giving Morne van den Berg a call. The 24-year-old has formed an effective partnership with Jordan Hendrikse, which has helped the Lions kickstart their season by winning four out of six home games, including victories over Munster and Edinburgh. Van den Berg has made a total of 249 metres from 48 carries, which includes eight clean breaks and five tries.
Sanele Nohamba completed his move to the Lions last week, having seen his career stagnate at the Sharks due to reported issues with his attitude. The 23-year-old looked like one of the country’s brightest prospects in early 2020 and was rewarded with a call-up to the enlarged Springbok squad for the 2021 B&I Lions series, playing for the SA A team in the hastily arranged match against the Bulls, before he was released from the squad just before the series started in Cape Town. However, given that he has played only three times off the bench for the Sharks in the URC and will only have two more URC games to play at the Lions, it’s unlikely he will have enough time to prove himself before the series against Wales.
Finally, if the Springboks want to go for an outside-the-box option and call someone up from abroad, James Hall has quietly been biding his time at Stade Francais. The 26-year-old, who played for the Junior Springboks in 2016, has been in France since moving to Oyonnax after playing in the U20 World Championships and would bring plenty of knowledge of the conditions that the Springboks will be playing in at the World Cup next year.
Photo: Christiaan Kotze/Gallo Images