The scrumhalf battle provides an intriguing subplot over the three-match series between South Africa and France. There is no player on the field who should be subjected to more pressure than others, but the reality is that because scrumhalves are involved in critical decision-making during a match, they cop plenty of flak when things go wrong and don’t get much credit when things go right.
The primary role of a scrumhalf has always been to pass, kick and get around the field. However, in the modern era halfback play has evolved. Scrumhalves need to able to move the ball quickly and bring a speed to the game where defences won’t be able to keep up.
It’s sad to see a player like Faf de Klerk not part of the Springbok squad, with Allister Coetzee having opted for Ross Cronje, Francois Hougaard and Rudy Paige for this series. De Klerk is the kind of player that adds positive attributes to any team he plays for despite his small frame, but national selection is based on form. His Lions teammate made the most of his first start for South Africa in Pretoria.
Cronje is exactly the type of player the Springboks need because he is always going to move the ball on before he starts looking for opportunities himself. The 27-year-old is not necessarily the greatest playmaker, but he is a guy who is going to get the job done 99 times out of 100.
The way he has matured is great to see. When I was still playing at the Sharks, Ross was breaking through the Sharks Academy at the time and I remember him training with the first-team on a few occasions. Cronje will be pleased with many aspects of his debut but, like any good professional, he will know that there are areas of his game he needs to improve upon and will aim for an even better performance in Durban.
Francois Hougaard only spent 16 minutes on the field in the first Test, and with Cronje and Elton Jantjies also dovetailing as a combination at domestic level, Hougaard appears to find himself in the role of an impact player. He boasts experience in terms of Test caps, but he might not have matured as many people thought he would.
Nonetheless, he certainly has the individual qualities of a world-class player. As a scrumhalf, you have to be able to adapt to every situation and know that, along with the flyhalf, you need to control the game in a way where your backs and forwards get the optimum number of opportunities and build a level of cohesion to win prime facets of the game.
Meanwhile, the French options are Maxime Machenaud, Baptiste Serin and Antoine Dupont. France are spoiled for choice at the moment when it comes to quality scrumhalves and all three men are different types of players.
Machenaud started the first Test against South Africa and is the kind of player that will keep things as tidy as possible and won’t try too many things. Serin made an impact when he came on in the second half and is certainly a player that will look to try and change the game through his attacking abilities from broken play.
However, in my honest opinion, Dupont is actually the best of all three. At 20, he is the youngest but, having played with him at Castres, I can attest to the fact that he is great in all aspects of scrumhalf play.
He is excellent at reading the game and knows when to attack and when to take the foot off the accelerator. He definitely has the best all-round game by a long way and would ask the most questions of the Springboks in a do-or-die Test match for France.
Kockott played 50 Super Rugby matches for the Sharks from 2007 to 2010 and 12 games for the Lions. In 2011, he relocated to France and to date has represented his adopted nation in 11 Tests.