Johannesburg - A measure of how much Faf de Klerk has grown in the two
years since he made his debut for the Springboks can be gained from how much
energy England are devoting to the task of shutting him down in the second test
When De Klerk played against Ireland in Allister Coetzee’s
first series as coach he did show some flashes of his raw talent, but he lacked
the all-round requirements, and for that read mostly kicking game, for the
scrumhalf position in international rugby. It was why he did not last as the
first choice halfback and before he left to play for Sale in England, he was
behind Ross Cronje in the Lions’ pecking order, according to supersport.com website.
Roll the video forward 24 months and we see images of De
Klerk not only tormenting England with his ball in hand attacking play and his
speedy and accurate service, but also putting in some good tactical kicks that
helped the Boks turn a tide that for 20 minutes was flowing in just one
direction at Emirates Airlines Park.
His opposite number in the England team, Ben Youngs, is in
agreement that De Klerk was key to so much that went right for the Boks in
Johannesburg, and has warned that there has to be a big focus on shutting De
Klerk down in the second test or the tourists will be heading to Newlands next
week for a dead rubber game.
“We can’t defend the way we did against Faf last weekend,
that is clear. We were leaving dog legs, we were not getting set early enough
and we were giving him acres of space to come into the game, which is what he
would have wanted,” said Youngs as England continued their build-up to the
second test in Durban.
“For whatever reason our defence was way off where we needed
it to be last weekend. You can’t invite guys like that to run at you and give
them time and space. That is exactly what they want. They will bully you if you
give them half a chance and that was exactly what happened in Johannesburg.
“It was the same with Willie le Roux in the wide channels.
For whatever reason we were very passive there defensively, and he was able to
manipulate the space around the fringes very effectively for them and it helped
them get back into the game and eventually win it. I thought Le Roux and Faf
were key to them turning the game around and to some extent we allowed them to
What was particularly frustrating for England and Youngs was
the fact that the potential impact of De Klerk around the fringes had been
discussed during the week building up to the Emirates Airlines Park test. A
plan is being put in place to nullify De Klerk in Bloemfontein, but as he says,
that is no different really from last week.
“It was frustrating to be defending like we were as it was
not how we had prepared to defend,” he said.
“We were giving him space. A lot of the guys know him from
playing for Sale in the Premiership and the one thing we had resolved not to do
was to give him space. He is a very lively, lively player and we were giving
him space on the front foot which was just what he wanted. Hopefully this
weekend we can deliver what we wanted to do last week by cutting down on his
time and space.
“He is very lively, isn’t he. He is strong around the ruck,
his distribution is great and he chucks it long. He and Le Roux were absolutely
key for them last time and it is imperative that we shut them down in this game
or we know we will be in trouble.”
Youngs knows though that it is not just with their defensive
approach that England need to blunt the Faf effect. He echoed the sentiments of
wing Jonny May the day before by saying that an improvement in the discipline
is critical to England's chances of keeping the series alive.
“If you are giving away a combination of penalties, how do
you stop a guy getting space? We need to cut down space and limit the time he
has when he gets the ball, but if you give away penalties you are giving him
the ball. We need to listen to the messages that have come through this week
and which were coming through from the sidelines during last week’s game. We
were a bit slow to react to those messages in Johannesburg.
“But the balance has to be right. We want to put the
opposition under pressure and cut down their time, but sometimes you can be too
eager and that can work against you. A good example was Faf’s try against us.
Maro (Itoje) was too eager in trying to tackle Faf and because he knew he had
put himself in an off-side position he pulled out of the tackle.”
The scrumhalf warned though that because of the way last
week’s game played out, there would be a natural extra edge to the England build-up
this time around.
“You have to be more clinical in the modern era but rugby is
always the same - it is built on emotion. If you are not there emotionally, you
get blown away. It is off the back of the emotion that you need to be clinical
and execute accurately,” said Youngs.
“The balance has to be right because last week we gave them
front foot ball by giving away too many penalties. There is edge this week
anyway because of the disappointment we felt after Johannesburg. When we came
off the field after that game we felt we had beaten ourselves to some degree.
“We were extremely disappointed with the way we defended and
the penalties we gave away and that has brought extra edge. This week has been
brilliant for us so far,” he added.
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