The Springboks can kiss their World Cup chances goodbye if Faf de Klerk doesn’t get his act together, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
There are many similarities between the Springboks’ two World Cup triumphs in 1995 and 2007. Both Bok teams featured a big pack of forwards, two quality goal-kickers, a mean defence and inspirational leaders.
But both teams also had the best scrumhalves of their respective generations. The late Joost van der Westhuizen and Fourie de Preez will go down as two of the best No 9s to have ever played the game, and had a massive role in the Boks’ lifting of the Webb-Ellis Cup.
They were two players – in many ways vastly different in their approach – who were certain match-winners.
Van der Westhuizen was a big, physical scrumhalf, dangerous around the fringes, as his great try-scoring record will attest. He was also a top defender, and a player who covered a lot of grass around the park.
Possessing some wonderful touches, he could kick with both feet and had a great pass. Just ask Jannie de Beer about the 1999 World Cup against England, when Joost set him up for four of his five successful drop attempts in that quarter-final with GPS-accurate deliveries off the base.
Du Preez, on the other hand, was a master tactician during his playing days. He was a guy who could read a match like a cheap novel. A guy who understood the concept of space, when to attack it, and when not to attack it.
He also had a massive boot, and took a lot of pressure off his flyhalves.
Apart from a fine attacking game, his passing was also crisp. But it was his ability to know who or where to pass to that probably set him apart from any other scrumhalf in the world in his playing days.
It’s really hard compare current Bok No 9 Faf de Klerk with these two greats of the game, because De Klerk is forging his own identity in the Springbok jersey and has already had some special moments during his brief international career.
De Klerk has some fantastic traits, which makes him one of the leading scrumhalves in the world. He is quick and anticipates well. He is a great defender, and a player who has the ability to cover a lot of space. He also has a very big heart and a champion attitude.
He has the ability to provide quick ball, although he may be hampered by the Boks’ current game plan, which prompts him take a lot more time to exercise his options.
However, where one can compare De Klerk with Van der Westhuizen and Du Preez is his execution of the fundamentals of scrumhalf play. The basics.
This, I’m afraid, is where De Klerk is falling woefully short at the moment.
Van der Westhuizen and Du Preez hardly made any mistakes. They did the simple things well. The basic things that are expected of a quality No 9.
It’s no secret, the Springboks play their rugby off their scrumhalf. Almost 90% of their exits are off nine. Their forwards take it through the phases off nine. Their contestable kicks are off nine. Most of their first-phase attack is off nine.
So De Klerk has a massive responsibility to make the Boks tick over.
But against the All Blacks, and in some of the matches earlier this year, his distribution off the base was poor. He missed his targets on a few occasions, with one wayward pass starting off a period of dominance for the All Blacks, which the Boks never recovered from.
His box kicks weren’t great either, with most of them not travelling far enough and putting the Boks under a lot of pressure. His kicks are also easy to spot, which gives the opposition time to prepare. So, if they are not accurate, it’s easy for teams like the All Blacks to take advantage of it.
De Klerk is a top scrumhalf and a match-winner, but, at the moment, he is struggling as the Boks’ primary playmaker.
It was surprising that Bok boss Rassie Erasmus kept his No 1 scrumhalf on the field for just over 70 minutes on Saturday when Hershel Jantjies has provided that spark for the South Africans every time he took the field this year.
Besides having that X factor, Jantjies’ basics are superb. It’s why he has leapfrogged players such as Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier, as well as Cobus Reinach in the Bok pecking order. He isn’t really a spectacular, high-action player. He just does everything really well, and then adds a bit of hot sauce to that mix.
It’s something De Klerk needs to get back to. Back to basics. The Boks aren’t going to win a World Cup with stray passes and short box kicks.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets