Which 10 is perfect for Boks?

Oom Rugby

Hi guys. I have a theory about flyhalfs and it go like this: to play the position in a Test match require so many different abilities and skills that, beside maybe some rare players, there is actually no such thing as a “Perfect 10”. To some degree every 10 is a compromise.

Especially in South Africa at the moment there is not one candidate who tick all the many boxes we require. If you honest with yourself even the South African 10 you love so much is not the complete package.

We been talking a lot about the merits of the local flyhalfs (and we will talk about them today too) but for the article this week I thought we will take a specific look at Pat Lambie’s game in the Champions Cup semi-final this weekend.

A core role of the 10 is to get his backs away effectively. Poor execution by a flyhalf can be like a poison to his backline. Pat is good at this on a technical level as we see in the picture above where he pass the ball between the two players in the pod to hit the senter Vakatawa on a fade-away line. Normally that pass will go out the backdoor, but the pass to Vakatawa need to happen at that moment so Lambie “thread the needle”.

If we looking at pure pass ability then I think Elton Jantjies is top of the list, with guys like Lambie, Damian Willemse and Robert Du Preez behind him.

Playing Flat
A flyhalf need to vary his depth to suit the situation, but the difficult thing is to play really flat. With modern defence dictating like it is, a flyhalf must be able to play late sometimes so that he can create uncertainty and space. We want to keep the inside defence honest and prevent them shifting out, and it is difficult for defenders to make decisions if a flyhalf delay his passes.

Historically and in this game we have seen that Pat is OK at this ability. In the example above he pass just a half a meter too early and that allow the senter Arnold to shift out to cover the next man.

Fair to say not many better than Elton at this ability to pull the strings right on the advantage line. After him perhaps Willemse and Du Preez are also quite good.

Lateral Awareness
In a flyhalf and a scrumhalf we want excellent awareness to the left and right because they must dictate play to where the opportunities is, to where the space is, and to where the numerical advantage is. We do not want our 9 or 10 sending play to the wrong side!

Unfortunately if I have a criticism of Pat in the past – and it raise its head in this game – is that he don’t always see the best place to pass the ball. In the example above we can see the big opportunity to Pat’s right, but instead he is looking inward and feed his hooker Chat on a inside line. Again I think Elton is good here, as well as Du Preez and Pollard.

Depth Awareness
Seeing the spacial depth on a rugby field is the skill needed for good tactical kicking. Just like some players doesn’t always see the things around them, some players does not see opportunities in depth that is further away from them.

Pat is very good at this and he is very quickly aware of poor positioning of the back three and the spaces behind the defence. In the example above he react very quickly from turnover ball, realise that the left wing Wooton try to scramble back, and take advantage with a great kick behind him. Funny enough we don’t have good kicking 10s in this country and Pat is maybe among the best in terms of awareness and decision making.

Kicking Distance
The flyhalf’s boot can get you out of trouble, but it can also get you into trouble if it is not powerful enough. A 10 with a big boot can keep his team in the opponent half the whole day and that is slow poison. It is also absolute slow poison to your own team if a guy can not give you territorial advantage after all your hard work.

I would not say Pat necessarily have a cannon for a boot, as we see in a example above. It is actually a penalty kick so he have all the time in the world but he don’t really drive the Irish back that far. He did not even reach the 10m line. We can safely say that guys like Willemse and Du Preez has bigger distance on their kicks. As a quick note, Pat is also sometimes a victim of charge downs and teams will notice that.

The “hinge” between the flyhalf and his forwards is the favourite place for a team to get momentum. This where we will see big runners charging at the space to set up deadly quick ball on the next phase. I will not describe Pat as a strong tackler who can slow the attack (as Pollard and Du Preez can), but he will make his tackles and rely on his good technique.

One area however where Pat shine is on his defence awareness and positioning. In the example above Munster has a nice numbers overlap down the left, but Pat react very early and come up fast and in the right place to shut down the option.

What we talking about here is the ability of the 10 to organise his troops and take control, and this is maybe the greatest strength of Pat. To watch him is like watching a conductor. The whole game we see him shouting and pointing and placing his chess pieces on attack and defence,

The above picture is just two examples of many, but in the first box we see Pat actually push his lock Nakarawa to fold across to get numbers up, and in the second box he point out the threat of Holland coming up for a possible inside ball from Keatley. Some players is like a glue for the team.

There many other things we can discuss like for instance attack, where Pat is perhaps in the same class as Elton in terms of having good feet and speed, but obviously nowhere near Willemse who is in a class of his own. Pollard and Du Preez use more muscle to break the line.

BMT is another big requirement where Pat come out on top I think. He have always shown the ability to rise on the big stage, followed maybe by Handre in this regard.

At the end of the day for me there is no clear perfect candidate for Bok 10. So the questions then is how do you want to play, what is non-negotiable, what strengths do you want, and what weaknesses can you ignore?

Each of us will have our own answers to this questions if we were the coach. Soon we will see what Rassie think, and whether Pat will feature in his plans at all.

DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans.

- Oom Rugby

Let's chat

  • Johny Wilknson

    but you just said elton ticks most of those boxes

    • Redge

      To me it’s a no brainer. Pollard to start with Willemse on the bench, that’s the future.Pat and Jantjies had enough opportunities and stuffed it up. Don’t believe du Preez is test ready. A flyhalve can at best be good with an average scrumhalve but brilliant with a real good no 9. Who will be that good no 9 in SA?

      • Naas.

        To me it is also a no brainer. Du Preez to start with Lambie on the bench. The others simply tick too few boxes.

    • Oom

      when it come to distribution and getting his backs away Elton is the best for sure

  • Herchelle

    Very good analysis oom. My personal non-negotiable would be BMT and the strong kicking game.When you team is under the pump and struggling for points you need you flyhalf to step up and take those points or execute that relieving kick. I believe at Super Rugby level you can get away with one or two kicks but not on test level.A good defense need time to breath after a good assault and playing the territory is so important. Sexton is very good for Iris in that department and where Elton fails.The another aspects of the play you can develop in you flyhalf but you cannot teach BMT.

    • Oom

      yes it is a interesting perspective because Test rugby is a different animal. more pressure, less risks, less time.
      we requiring a calm, tactical head and the ability to relieve and create pressure with the boot

    • humblepie

      Need time to breath?
      This is one of the main differences between modern and traditional teams. Traditional teams have heavy, bulky players that need time to breath. Not so with recently successful teams. They deliberately play at a high pace and successfully exploit this. The best example of a team that was on the receiving end of this tactic was the Bulls of last year. They quickly picked up a reputation that they are vulnerable in this area and almost all their opponents exploited this. Norris Marais regularly instructed his players to “slow the game down” with disastrous results.
      Ditto when Japan beat Heynecke’s Boks a few years ago.
      Interesting times.

      • Wesley

        Look at the Lions this year and last, and NZ the last couple of years, and tell me if you can even attempt to breathe with them blowing down your neck. High risk balls to the wall… Fitness levels needs to be through the roof. 95 Boks come to mind, although I might be nostalgic. Perhaps we should do away with this “slow down” approach from the get go. Only under the kosh should you consider this, not as a starting game plan. You will never come out on top.

    • Johan

      Jantjies kicked 100% in the final against the Crusaders in 2017, 86% in the incoming tour, 81% in the rugby championship.

      38m per kick in rugby championship.
      25m per kick for B Barrett.

      Had it not been for an early red card in the SR final…
      The did however beat the almighty Canes the week before that 44-29.

      Lambie started when the Boks lost to both Japan and Italy.
      Morne Steyn started the 57-15 loss against NZ, replaced in the 60th minute by BMT hero Lambie
      (with the score at: SOUTH AFRICA 15-22 NEW ZEALAND)

      Handre Pollard started in SA’s first ever loss to Argentina in South Africa.
      He was replaced by Lambie in the 65th minute (with SA way behind already)

      Yet Elton has no BMT while Lambie:
      “BMT is another big requirement where Pat come out on top I think. He have always shown the ability to rise on the big stage”

      I honestly think all the Elton hate is racism

      All of the Boks were terrible the past few years

      • Barry Smith

        Johan, you give Test examples of Lambie and Pollard but, talk about Jantjies game against Crusaders in Super Rugby. With respects if we are going to compare, at least compare them at the same level. How about, for example, the fact that Jantjies was the Incumbent 10 for most of last year – amongst South Africa’s worst years ever!

        • Johan

          ” 86% in the incoming tour, 81% in the rugby championship. ” is test examples

          Goal kicking is were flyhalves are alone, all pressure on them to score the points, and 80%+ is very good handling of that pressure.

          “38m per kick in rugby championship.” vs Barret “25m” is also a test example

          “Jantjies kicked 100% in the final against the Crusaders” if that isn’t a BMT match, I don’t know what is?

          My point is that Lambie has no BMT and Oom is pushing him as Bok 10.
          Also that people claim Jantjies has no BMT, while all our flyhalves have been involved in embarrassing results. Maybe none of them has BMT? Or maybe the Bok results are because of the team (including especially the coach!!!)

      • Oom

        a valid criticism of Elton is that he can sometimes disappear when he get uncomfortable. we have seen it quite a few times. Test rugby is high pressure, so hoping he can one day get his head right

      • Wesley

        Racism maybe a few, but think a bit strong in terms of the many supporters criticizing him. I think they get stuck on his performances with under-performing teams and some terrible coaches – HM loved his Bulls buddies like Steyn, even though he himself was not playing well, Allister we can rather throw to the trashheap of history, while when given the support under Ackerman and Swys, he bosses all other contenders for the 10 jersey around the park week in and week out. He pumped Pollard, du Preez and Willemse in straight games so far, and yet they still find something to talk about against him afterward. SS commentators love bashing any minor infraction he makes in the studio afterward and talking up the opposition flyhalves, especially in derby games, and I think thats where most of the people form their opinion.

        • Barry Smith

          Wow, he ” pumped Du Preeze, Pollard and Willemse”. You can’t take the outcome of the game and ascribe it purely to the fly half, you need to have actually watched the games and the individuals playing. In the first game against the Sharks Jantjies was know where, Lions scraped a win! In the Bulls game, two yellow cards for the Bulls distorted the game hugely and nullified the Bulls attack. Stormers game, agreed, Jantjies was better, but Willemse has much room to grow!

          • Johan

            Yes, he missed one tackle, not expecting Robert to step inside.. wow

            Jantjies made 73 / 94 (78%) tackles in 720 min so far
            Robert made 48 / 61 (79%) tackles in 689 min so far

            Is Rob also poor or is that 1% amazing?

            Jantjies also makes a tackle every 9.8 minutes while
            Rob makes a tackle every 14.4 minutes…

            I remember quite clearly how The Lions won

          • Dale

            I remember quite clearly how Rob Du Preez literally ran over Jantjies. His defense is poor.

          • Johan

            In the Sharks game Jantjies made 3rd most tackles (10) missed only 1
            Only Brink (11) and van der Walt (13) has more.

            Won 1 turnover at the tackle
            Made 51m on attack in 9 carries
            17 “Good passes” 89% vs du Preez’s 5 “Good passes”

            He made the space for Mapoe’s try and final pass before the try.

            Offloaded in the tackle in the run up (final move) to Dyantyi’s first try (with two tacklers on him)
            In other words, he pulled two defenders, offloaded in the tackle, ball went wide, space was created with pulled defenders and Dyantyi scored brilliantly against the cross defense.

            Straightened the line, pulled a defender and offloaded again in the run up to Mapoe’s second try.

            Clearly he was sic“know where” against the sharks…

            I’m not going to analyze the Bulls game, Sways played a master card in that game.
            The Bulls practiced defending running rugby and the Lions mauled the whole game. Not much he could do more there.
            The yellow cards was deserved, the bulls couldn’t live with the lions that game.

            On a side note with most the tries being score off mauls, Jantjies still had 100% goal kicking

            Finally, the Lions have now won 20 games in a row against SA teams.. With Jantjies starting most (if not all) of them

            Why the hate?

        • Oom

          so far all the blame lie with three different coaches for Elton sub par performances.
          that is a admission that he is like “goldilocks” because everything must be just right for him to be effective.

          • Johan

            One coach Toetie…

            He is very effective under Swys, he was very effective under Ackermann, he was also very effective under Mitchell


  • Wesley

    Elton ticks most of the boxes, which is a testament to where the Lions are at the moment. Purely looking at SA flyhalves, he’s the best. Perhaps having that second option directly outside him which releases the pressure and having more boot and power outside, you can then play Pollard at 12. They can switch, keeping defenses on their toes. DDA brings nothing outside 10 at the moment. Then play absolute power outside Pollard with Esterhuizen / RJVR at 13. Play Lambie at 15 where he can direct play to the back, with coming in on the line at pace. Curwin on the bench learning what he can… 11 and 14 are open and 9 a big concern. That would be may starting backline…

    • Oom

      yes for sure the. right 12 next to Elton can help him and maybe calm that nerves and take some pressure off

    • boyo

      Estherhuizen has a cannon of a left boot and could be great with Elton who plays flat.

      • Ulrich

        Ideally you want a right-footed kicker next to Elton as he is left-footed himself. That really opens up options and would keep defenses honest.

        Personally I think du Preez & Pollard would go well together, because as good as Elton is he is a bit weaker on defense than all our other options. WIth du Preez or Willemse next to Pollard that will never be a problem.

        • Wesley

          Well there you go Barry, Johan gave the tackle stats. Pretty much same. So like I said, defense argument falls flat. And it is up to 15men yes, but the marshall is usually your 10 and 12. Got taught that in primary school. My school buddy Bontie played 12. He was good at moving guys around to cover their channels…. basic schoolboy stuff. Did you ever play rugby Barry?

        • Wesley

          Defense argument falls flat if you look at how many tries leaked by the Sharks this season… Someone not organizing the defense properly? Which is the flyhalf / inside centres duty…

          • Barry Smith

            Defence is the duty of 15 team members not 2. Rather refer to the missed tackle count and then comment!

  • humblepie

    It is a pity that Jantjies became a Springbok in the Toetie era. He is a gifted player.
    Come to think of it, I cant ‘recall any player that developed and became a stronger player under Toetie’s guidance as Springbok coach.

  • Just Saying

    Interesting when you compare and interpret stats:
    Robert du Preez – averages 34.6m with kicking, 278 metres with 41 carries – 6.78m average
    Elton Jantjies – averages 33.06m with kicking, 444 metres with 68 carries – 6.48m average
    Handre Pollard – averages 33.9m with kicking, 471 metres with 62 carries – 6.92m average
    Damian Willemse – average 35.79m with kicking, 771 metres with 81 carries – 9.69m average

    Consider a couple of things:
    Robert du Preez has the least of carries, and his kicking is pretty average compared to the others.
    Elton Jantjies is kind of on par, but he rather passes the ball than taking contact. To me this does not mean his distribution is great because many times the receivers of his passes are directly into contact after receiving the ball from Elton.
    Handre Pollard has one less match than all the others due to the Bulls having had all their byes, a lot of his kicks have been short distance kicks affecting his average because the Bulls opt for line outs more than any other team.
    Damian Willemse has good stats to look at, but is it really so good if one takes into account where the Stormers are on the log? Should he not have passed the ball more often rather than taking it himself? Is he getting his backs moving?

    But, the stats that I used are only a small part of a player’s total array. Game management, BMT, maturity, leadership, recovery, resilience, performing under pressure, decision making, and more, also play roles.

  • Mamma.J

    The most irritating thing in my rugby walk is the critisism of Elton, both from a Lions supporters view as well as from a Springbok supporters view. This whether he plays brilliantly, mediocre or poor. Ehst’s he done to deserve it???nxa

    They then climb into his every being, from his white partner to his hair. What’s it got to do with me, you, everybody who he dates and how he cuts his hair, jrrrrr. And mind you, this kid gives his all and more. No one sees and mentions that.Who knows that he still practices his kicking long after everyone has gone home, he practices and practices, even more when his DaD was alive. Leave this
    Kid be jinne, nxa

    Why is this kid thé most critisized Lions and Springbok player I wanna know. Look how he steered the Lions to a final,,,,,,twice, the Highlanders in the closing stages last year st Ellis Park was a spectacle of his pure class from him,,,,,,,,and he still gets critisized.

    Is he the best? No, his kicking can sometimes suck, his defence sometimes suck but hey, whose doesnt, Elton has a natural flair and is a proper General, he steers the Lions, Toetie never gave him freedom, period. And why must a team heavily rely only on the boot, play good enough so a miss or two is not “missed”


    • Johan

      Well said!

      Though I think they criticizes his hair, because he has guided his team to 20 straight wins against SA teams. (Nothing to criticize there)

      Elton arrives early for training
      He also stays late practicing kicking even more
      He spends a considerable amount of his pay on high tech recovery tools that even the Lions do not have
      – How often he is hit late in games and how many injuries have he had compared to Lambie/Handre?etc ?
      He started boxing to improve his ability to take the hit, also make the correct decision on offloading/keeping the ball
      He has his own (paid with his own salary) mental coach to help him prepare for games
      He has his own personal trainer for extra conditioning
      He also has a yoga instructor where he focus on core-strengthening exercises and movements

      All of this information is online, said in press conferences, but never mentioned.

      Why? I don’t know

      Perhaps people where too busy, criticizing his hair and his wife…

      “My wife also plays a big role. She’s an incredible, strong person as she takes on a lot of responsibility, especially when I’m away from home because of rugby.”

      “Over and above the training I do with the Emirates Lions on a weekly basis, I work out with boxing trainer Sebastiaan Rothmann”

  • Dean

    There’s enough games to have 2 sets of back line players. Rassie will have to decide on combinations more than anything else. The quality is there in abundance. I think he will divide some experience and talent among the Wales and England games. Papier and Pollard with Serfontein on the inside as a combo and Elton and Faf as one with Frans Steyn. Frans has the tactical awareness and organization on defense to ease the pressure off Elton. The same goes for the forwards, imagine Strauss, RG and Lood playing against Wales and then equally as good you have Marx, Eben and PS du Toit playing England. You don’t lose anything in terms of quality and Rassie will be targeting to win every game this year.

  • Barry Smith

    Oom Rugby, a few months back you wrote a column stating that Pollard is a natural 12 and not a 10. Has this changed? As the Wales game falls outside the test window, Lambie would not be available. I would therefore suggest that Rassie would opt for Du Preeze at 10 and Esterhuizen at 12 for the Wales game. If they play well, there will be cause for debate on the starting 10 and 12 for the England series but I would suspect this would be Jantjies at 10 and Pollard at 12. I was a bit bemused at your inclusion of Willemse and the exclusion of Bosch. Bosch has two test caps, whilst Willemse has three good SR performances!

  • humblepie

    Rassie indicated that he considers Faf at scrumhalf. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to work out that he will then play him with Elton. It will then be an 8, 9, 10 from the same team. These are the decision makers in a team. We have seen how innovative they can be especially at line outs. Faf is also the fastest ball distributor in SA rugby. This makes Elton and everyone at his outside extremely dangerous. Exiting prospects.

    • Just Saying

      Those three prospects have exited, yes.

    • Barry Smith

      The Wales game is outside the Test window so Faf would not be available and most reports indicate Whitely will not be back in time. Thus 8 would likely be Dan Du Preeze for Wales game and possibly Thor for England! Based on your premises then, we could expect Du Preeze, Schroder, Du Preeze (8,9,10) for the first test against Wales?

      • humblepie

        Yeah. The Wales game…
        Rassie s focus will be on the England series with the Wales game a neccesary evil to keep SARU s finances alive for a while. He is going to deploy 2 teams to achieve this. Not an easy start for a coach.

  • Cliff Patterson

    Start with a brilliant No 9 who dictates the game and then choose a number 10 who can Control the game.

  • Tom

    Why don’t you just say it – you pick Elton.

    No consideration given to Pollard.

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