Faf absence good for Boks

Joshua Brown

Conflicting reports have raised doubts about Faf de Klerk’s availability for South Africa’s end-of-year tour, but whether the Bok halfback misses one, two or all four of the Tests in Europe, his absence may prove to be a blessing in disguise.

De Klerk played a lead role in blockbuster performances against the All Blacks during the Rugby Championship, but the lack of depth behind him was exposed when the Boks blew a 17-point lead in a 32-30 loss against the world champions at Loftus Versfeld.

De Klerk’s absence from at least parts of the November tour would force Rassie Erasmus to find clarity where he has been uncharacteristically indecisive. The 2019 Rugby World Cup is less than one year away and the sooner the Bok coach identifies who will travel to Japan as De Klerk’s official understudy, the better.

Though Ivan van Zyl was the early frontrunner for the backup role – he started and finished the once-off Test against Wales in June – his Blue Bulls teammate, Embrose Papier has played second fiddle to De Klerk in six of the last seven Tests. But where Papier should have no problem pulling on De Klerk’s jersey (both men weigh 80kg, with the latter standing 1cm taller), the 21-year-old may not yet be experienced enough to step into the void.

Papier’s Test career is only 23 minutes old (and only seven of those minutes came at scrumhalf) and a tally of 10 Super Rugby caps makes him callow at the next level down. To ask the youngster to assume a starting role on pitches, and against opponents, that will be worlds apart from what he’s experienced at a hot and dry Loftus Versveld is too great an ask at this stage in his career.

No alternative ticks all three boxes of international experience, European familiarity and reasonable youthfulness, except for Cobus Reinach.

The former Sharks scrumhalf is the perfect man to step into the breach. With 10 Test caps accumulated between 2014 and 2015, he has more experience than Papier and Van Zyl combined. Two tries and a string of energetic showings contributed to a personally-successful tour of Europe in 2014, and he’ll know the conditions better than most having been based in England since last year with the Northampton Saints.

Reinach has routinely made his ambitions to represent the Springboks clear, going so far as to say he would “win the World Cup for Rassie”. It’s just one of several bold statements of intent, perhaps buoyed by his somewhat unlucky exclusion from the 2015 global showpiece after solid showings in that year’s Rugby Championship.

Admittedly, Northampton haven’t had the best run of results of late, but Reinach’s instinctive attacking game have made him one of the few standouts, and his raw pace, unbridled passion and improving kicking game make him a good fit for De Klerk’s empty boots.

Putting all that aside, Reinach simply deserves a recall. He did very little to warrant his exile from the international arena during the past three seasons and is clearly willing to play his heart out for a ticket to Japan.

Handing him the No 9 jersey, while Papier continues to serve his apprenticeship off the bench, is the right thing to do for both players.

Reinach needs an opportunity to prove he can, in fact, win the Webb Ellis Cup for South Africa, and what better way to do that than by helping topple Europe’s giants?

FRESH TAKE is an initiative to identify, feature and develop talented rugby writers who are not yet part of the mainstream media. If that sounds like you, send us a sample of a story you’d like to write to info@alloutrugby.com

Follow Josh @BalcomBrown

- Joshua Brown

Let's chat

  • Gerhard

    Agree we need more certainty on who are the contenders for the important 9 position for the World Cup and this position requires a scrumhalf with experience to make the right decisions under pressure and to direct the forwards around the loose scrums and general play.We also need to be successful on the tour and Reinach knows the local conditions well which is required agains world class opposition and a tough touring programme.

  • boyo

    Not a big Reinach fan but the way we want our nine to play he is the best bet especially defensively where we rely on Faf’s pace and aggression. Van zyl and Shroeder are both better 9’s in my opinion but don’t fit the bok style the way Reinach would.

  • Steven

    I think Van Zyl has talent, but every time I’ve seen him, he often, and seemingly for no reason at all, takes ages to pass or kick from the back of a ruck or scrum, while looking around – for what? Space to kick into? Or a gap in the opposing defense? If so, why do no other scrummies from any other nation ever do this? Faf does it too sometimes – although mercifully not much in the All Black games – and so does Reinach (although admittedly I haven’t watched him since he left SA). But it makes absolutely no sense to me. It just stops any momentum if there is any, and/or it slows the game down when it doesn’t need to be slowed down. The only explanation I can think of is that it suggests that not everyone is in tune with the systems yet, so they have to wait till everyone is in the right position for whatever play has been called. Again, I never see any scrummies from any other nation do this, and it’s incredibly irritating because it seems to be a glaring error that the coaches aren’t fixing – just like our back’s nearly always running more sideways than forward, with no one straightening the line 9 times out of 10. But these are some of the few negatives. The positives far outweigh the negatives now. Can’t wait for the EOY tour!!! For what it’s worth I hope Rassie picks Reinach to start, Papier to back him up – and actually gives him game time – and Van Zyl as 3rd choice if his squad is allowed to accommodate a 3rd no.9. Schroeder’s also good, but for some reason he’s just never quite seemed to be of international class. Papier and Van Zyl both seem to have the potential to be.

  • Gerhard

    I agree with your comments it does slow the game down and the opposition have enough time to get of the line to to put our backline under pressure.We need the 9 and 10 to dictate and to make the right decisions particularly when we are in the last quarter of the game to close out the game.This was one of our weak points so far this year where we lost tests matches right at the end of the game.

  • dbaggins

    If the plan is to groom young players like Papier , Van Zyl, Schroeder. As understudies to Faf. It makes more sense to have a very experienced player as a third backup in case Faf is injured to take over the starting berth and mentoring role. This way the young player is not thrown to the wolves and the team doesn’t suffer if the younger player still has to find his feet.

    Pienaar is still playing great rugby in France at the moment (some might say he is the best 9 on form in europe at the moment). But Highly doubt he could be used to defend in the same way Faf does, by shooting up ahead and disrupting play.

    Hougaard has the experience and the physical explosive attributes to defend in the same manner as Faf. (Has also been a star in for his club in UK). It would be important that the backup can perform the same core duties. Otherwise the defensive pattern would have to be altered.

    Reinach has the abilities as mentioned, but he has not outperformed Pienaar or Hougaard whilst in Europe. Seeing as this position is not a long term option. It makes sense to go with the best option.
    Because of the unique defensive role required in the bok team. My personal vote would be to have Hougaard involved in case Faf is injured or till Papier and Van Zyl can comfortably start matches with certainty.

    • Barry

      I agree with your thoughts on Pienaar, in fact I commented on a blog yesterday along those lines. Lets not forget that Fourie Du Preez was also around 33 when he played at last world cup. Pienaar has 88 test caps 67 Super Rugby Caps and four years in Europe. More so, he is in great form at Montpellier. You need experience at world cup, not boys! On the defensive aspect, we need to remember that he stands at 6′ 2″ 92 Kgs and can also play fly half and has an 80%+ Goal Kicking capability. Much the same as we have Schalk Britz in the wings as insurance, so should we have Pienaar. You cannot buy 88 tests worth of experience!

      • dbaggins

        I am one of Pienaars biggest fans. Definitely has one of the best passes and the best game management ability to marshal forwards around. He is pure class.
        But the value of coaching in certain structures can only really come to the fore if they same scenarios are created for players on the field. Hence you would want the back up to be able to do the same core duties. Unique Defensive structure have been a big part of Rassies 5 successful games thus far.
        Pienaar won’t really pose as much a threat if he shoots up in front of the defensive line as Faf has done this RC in a terrier fashion looking to isolate and harass ball carriers. (quite refreshing to see). To do the manner that Faf has you need to be extremely explosive (freakish acceleration and agility) in a sport where everyone has good explosive capability.

        Pienaar is firmly in the classical mold of sweeping up behind the defensive line like 90% of scrummies. It would be a big disservice to players like Pienaar and Schroeder if they are required to perform a duty which they don’t have the best skill set for. Hence if Rassie uses them he would have to chance certain aspects…….. As a coach that is a nightmare, because you then have get other players to do certain aspects extra or change other players or change the system….. or worst of all compromise on what you think is the best answer.

  • Barry

    If we are serious about winning the RWC in 2019, then we need to get shot of the boys in the system and look at serious contenders for the 9 berth that have maturity and experience. After last weekends fiasco surely this should be plain to see!

    I think it helps a bit to look at the contenders credentials:

    Age 34
    Tests 88
    SR 67
    Four years in Europe Ulster / Montpellier – European player of the year award!

    Tests 1
    SR 96

    Tests 19
    SR 65

    Tests 11
    SR 60

    Tests 0
    SR 18
    Montpellier 14

    Test starts nil
    SR 17

    Test Starts Nil
    SR 10

    I would ask you, if you were reviewing these CV’s, would the last two on the list really be your forerunners?

  • Herman Schroder?

    You left out Ross Cronje who has more experience than any of the other pretenders except for Faf and Pienaar. He has played in three SR finals campaigns including against the best Franchise teams in the world ie NZ. He has played in 10 tests and like so many others suffered under the AC mantle of incompetence. Apart from Faf no one has played as much top class rugby in RECENT years.

    Some of those contenders have yet to have a decent run in SR never mind tests. Papier, van Zyl, Wright should not even come into the equation. They say SR is not test rugby but if you’ve hardly even played SR where does that put you ? They’ve never really been tested under high pressure situations for long periods and tests are not the place to develop them.

    Schroeder ( no relation, lol ) is an average workmanlike player a wee bit above local club rugby standard imo. Ninety-six SR games and one test says it all. So we are left with a slow poke golden oldie, Pienaar who doesn’t seem particularly interested ( that should be a warning sign ) and Reinach whom I enjoy as a competent scrummie and the closest to the Faf mould. So for me it’s Faf ( no brainer ), Cronje and Reinach for the best way forward.

    Which brings me to my final point. If one looks at the strife currently being created with the availability of these overseas players such as Willie, Faf, Mostert etc how is one to develop a team culture in the Bok team ? This is precisely why NZ does not consider them.. Rassie’s already juggling transformation imperatives and now has the added disruption of ‘will he play won’t he play’ to further complicate his selection process.

    Regrettably it’s now too late to only grow local talent for the WC, it should have started back in June, 10 tests ago. Despite having these overseas players available we still only managed to win 50% of our games so in retrospect what did we have to lose anyway ?.

    Rassie is going to have to have the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon to pull this one off. With the Cosatu vultures watching his every move and overseas bosses dictating player availability he literally has a mountain to climb and he will be the man under the most pressure. A fat pay cheque might just make it bearable. Cheers.

    • Albert

      I don’t think he has a literal mountain to climb, unless his contract is on top of Table Mountain.

      But yes, I do agree for the most part. I would like to see certain individuals who looked pedestrian under Coetzee get another crack. I mean, some of them might even prove to be better than the incumbents. I would love to see Rohan Janse Van Rensburg at 12, but it’s a pitty he is playing abroad now.

      • Herman Schroder?

        I agree totally. I Believe RJ is setting the world alight up north.

        PS Thanks for the correction. virtually should have been the correct word, my bad. Cheers.

  • Barry

    Herman, surely as an ardent Lions supporter you would know that Ross Cronje is seriously injured and wont be participating in the EOYT, hence my exclusion!
    The top SA 9 from SR 2018 was Cameron Wright and justly rewarded with the first test against Wales.
    Pienaar was indeed disinterested under the Coetzee term, but frankly wouldn’t you also be – there were quite a few ex Boks that distanced themselves during those horrible three years! We really need his experience, be it off the bench or as a mentor. To emphasise my point, this is at a glance what were up against – and what if Faf gets injured:
    SR 119
    Tests 78

    SR 104
    Tests 50

    Quins 250
    Tests 81

    Tigers 221
    Tests 77
    We really need to match that experience!

    • Herman Schroder?

      I didn’t realize RC’s injury was that serious but it was also with the WC in mind which was I think what you alluded to in your article. I wasn’t aware that Wright was the top scrummie in SR, who decided that ?. Rassie’s team for the Wales test was a mixed bag of wannabees of various colours in my opinion and let’s also face it his 18 SR caps is hardly a man who has been there and done that in preparation for test rugby don’t you think.? A fit Cronje still a better bet.

      As for Pienaar, no Sir. HM decided to bring in a troop of ‘golden oldies’ for the WC and Japan happened, lol. Even du Preez was off the pace in that campaign. Experience imo is overrated anyway. The training and conditioning these days coupled with intense rugby quickly matures the newbies all they need are the skills and mental strength. Most of our current ‘ golden oldies’ are brain damaged in rugby terms and are best left to ply their trade overseas. Cheers.

  • Martin

    Hougie….come back..!!

  • Deon

    Cobus Reinach. Great choice now

    AC incompetence..yeah right. Just as much limited.. And willingly put under further pressure by the SA media.. Though he had he’s flaws

  • John Comyn

    Anyone been watching the youngster playing 9 for WP? No I thought not! For most of you from elsewhere, other than WP supporters, it’s been rather embarrassing. Anyway he is definitely one for the future. Hell we could have a Jantjies at 9 and 10.

  • Maxwell

    Ross Cronje hands down. Still my nr 1 scrumhalf.

  • Chris Mouton

    I’ll choose Reinach without a doubt for the EOYT. He has massive pace and I think that he’ll fit the mould of terrier defense that Faf brought to the table. Back when he played for the Boks he was too eager to impress, but I think he would’ve gained a lot more maturity during his time up North. I would’ve chosen him and Faf for the Boks even while they were here. They’re just a lot more dangerous than the local guys here. We need guys with a lot of energy, willing to make quick taps or quick plays. Pienaar has a lot of experience, but just doesn’t fit the mould of rugby our scrummies should play.

Comments are closed.