Springboks

Boks could live or die over Faf’s fortunes

2018-05-17 13:25
Faf de Klerk (Getty)

Cape Town – Who else has crazily mixed, confused views over Faf de Klerk’s Springbok career so far?

My recollections are either of seriously useful or glaringly rotten matches by the notably diminutive scrumhalf … with very little in between.

Which begs the major question of whether he would be the correct call by head coach Rassie Erasmus to plug their enduringly most problematic hole (and one of the most “spinal” positions in a rugby team) for the major Test undertakings in June.

Let’s just say there will significant risks associated with any fresh display of Bok confidence - that’s what the rumour-mill strongly suggests - in the now Sale Sharks-based No 9.

Although there may be some suspicion that we are simply “treading water” in the position, you can hardly blame Erasmus for being seduced by what De Klerk has to offer, considering the rave reviews he’s been getting in the distant environs of the English Premiership.

He will want to believe that the player has added several welcome strings to his overall bow – raw talent and amazing tenacity have never been problems - since his switch from the Lions in Johannesburg to a very different climate, in so many respects, in the chilly English north-west.

Erasmus and his lieutenants will also be painfully mindful that, despite flashes of promise from several individuals, no SA-based scrumhalf has amassed utterly compelling international credentials during Super Rugby 2018 thus far; the post-Fourie du Preez headache for consistent high quality only continues.

Selection has been relatively fluid in the berth across the four South African teams in the competition, only underling the climate of uncertainty.

So any fresh overtures to De Klerk, 26, are arguably more driven by necessity than a special sense of eagerness.

Then still with the Lions, and his Bok selection at least initially well justified by their rise and rise under Johan Ackermann at the time, De Klerk earned all 11 of his current Test caps in Allister Coetzee’s rocky (that seldom changed) first season as national coach in 2016.

In a nutshell, he was often terrific in the desperately tight home series against Ireland – eked out 2-1 – and I remember singling him out, for instance, after the shock 26-20 Newlands loss first-up for top rating, on debut, in a sea of Bok mediocrity or downright ineptitude.

“Undoubtedly up for it … constantly effervescent … snappy service,” were out-takes from my match notes that day, and De Klerk continued in similar vein for the rest of the series, including with some utterly invaluable moments of supreme awareness and pure guts on defence as the spoils swung like a pendulum to the very finish of those bilateral hostilities.

But then things began to unravel, sometimes rather too violently, for the Bok No 9 as his deficiencies in calm, astute game management - at least then - became very apparent, especially as the Rugby Championship turned into a two-wins-from-six disaster for South Africa, and third place.

He started to be side-lined, including two bench appearances (behind Rudy Paige) during the end-of-year tour, and that was it for his international career right up to this point.

To his credit, De Klerk seems to have taken all that on the chin, and gone away to fine-tune his all-round game: clearly nowadays to the pronounced benefit of Sale.

He was this week named in an English Premiership Team of the Year, along with compatriot Willie le Roux of Wasps.

In the widely-acknowledged, slower-paced landscape of the Premiership, being a smart “general” at No 9 is often especially vital, so De Klerk has seemingly blossomed in that respect, indeed, abroad.

But the jury may also still be out on him back home: there have also been times, after all, when fellow-South African scrumhalf Francois Hougaard has been massively lauded across the ocean for his exploits with Worcester Warriors … yet simply underwhelmed all over again when called back for Bok duty (he has now signalled an end to his Test career).

Hougaard, incidentally, was involved in a concussion-causing collision with another past Springbok No 9, Cobus Reinach, when his team played Worcester on the last day of ordinary season in the Premiership recently – both men left the park in the 29th minute.

The seriousness (or otherwise) of Reinach’s injury is not known, although the 10-cap former Durban-based favourite is still fancied by some pundits as best solution to the Bok woes - he last wore the green and gold jersey against Argentina in Buenos Aires during 2015.

Mindful of the near-desperation to solve the No 9 crisis, I have no beef at all with Erasmus “taking another look” at the enigmatic De Klerk, if that’s what transpires.

But if he does become the first-choice for their bigger assignments over the four Test weekends in June, just how smoothly (or not) De Klerk slots in could have a pivotal bearing on whether the Springboks start back on a much-desired, collective upward curve …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  faf de klerk  |  rugby
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