Rugby Championship

Herschel: Best Bok No 9 display in 12 years

2019-07-22 13:02
Herschel Jantjies
Herschel Jantjies (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - A dozen years on, it remains quite firmly embedded in my memory bank, and I am unlikely to be alone.

The Springboks, en route to winning the 2007 World Cup by later clinching an altogether tenser final against the same foes, produced arguably the slickest, most ruthless showing of the tournament in the pool phase by destroying title-holders England 36-0 in Paris.

At the fulcrum of just about everything constructive the Boks did that glorious day was their scrumhalf Fourie du Preez.

The then 25-year-old was at roughly the prime of his career then (relatively unhindered by the ravages of injury that would later intrude substantially) and earning the 34th of his eventually 76 international caps.

As if confirmation were even needed at that point that the Bulls-based No 9 was the best thing in the post-isolation berth for South Africa since illustrious Bok and franchise predecessor Joost van der Westhuizen, Du Preez strode Stade de France like an unrelenting colossus.

Combining astute game management - always such a strong suit - with accurate kicking, bullet-like passing and a roaming and linking presence that had the English defence at sixes and sevens, Du Preez was a popular, quite obvious choice as official player of the match as the Boks made a major statement of their tournament intentions.

The BBC described his performance as “from another planet”.

Specialist scribe for The Guardian, Robert Kitson, wrote afterwards: “Du Preez is rated the best in the world by many and he did not disappoint his admirers, showing genuine pace and executing a scoring pass to (JP) Pietersen with the sure timing of a born matador.

“England were buried so comprehensively you could barely hear the screams.”

Du Preez would go on to grace two further World Cups (2011 and 2015) and stay vitally influential … albeit never quite scaling again the personal heights of 2007, for reasons not linked in any way to his commitment.

In the most recent four-year cycle toward fast-looming RWC 2019 in Japan, South Africa have generally struggled to produce the sort of aura and stability at scrumhalf enjoyed in the Van der Westhuizen/Du Preez years, something demonstrated in oft-shuffling selection trends in the role.

On the plus side, Faf de Klerk - expected to occupy the starting role against the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday - has had his share of stellar personal Test matches in his currently 21-cap career, although also some notable stinkers along the way.

He did deliver in June 2016 what I believe was the best pre-2019 Springbok scrumhalf single-game effort since that Parisian blinder by Du Preez: at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, when the then Allister Coetzee-coached outfit closed out a desperately tense home series against weakened Ireland 2-1 through a 19-13 victory that was immensely more nail-biting than the score-line may suggest.

De Klerk’s tigerish desperation and key stamina on defence played a monumental role in the Boks repelling the concerted Irish charge at the death in Port Elizabeth.

I later gave him a top-of-the-pops 8/10 on my customary Springbok team ratings for Sport24 with the following summary: “This Test and thus the entire series hung in the balance until after the siren sounded. The Boks had to dig so deep … and none did this better than the gutsy, durable No 9, with a daring spot tackle (on tryline-headed Keith Earls) to quite probably prevent a decisive Irish try. He had also made a superb aerial poach earlier when the tourists threatened greatly too. Snappy service; broadly effervescent.”

Had I done the exercise nine years earlier in that Bok drubbing of England, Du Preez would have earned a slightly superior nine, a figure I had not summoned for a South African scrumhalf in several years of these ratings … at least up to last Saturday.

All that changed at Ellis Park, with the quite fairy-tale debut against Australia of 23-year-old Herschel Jantjies, the former Paul Roos pupil on the Stormers/WP books.

That it was his first appearance at the highest level after such a speedy first-class rise over the last few months only adding to the dazzling merits of his display, Jantjies earned an unreserved 9/10, and I wasn’t the only rugby judge to deliver that tally.

There is no need here to revisit the multiple strongpoints of his performance, still so fresh in the minds of all who witnessed it, either on television or at the famous stadium itself.

But however swiftly or more gradually Jantjies progresses in green and gold from here - don’t automatically now expect giddying levels like this one every week, either, as he’ll be an especially marked man to any upcoming foes - Saturday’s showing was right up alongside that Fourie du Preez masterclass of 2007, by my book.

And whether you concur wholeheartedly or not, that’s a weighty tribute all of its own, don’t you think?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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