England out to blunt Faf effect

2018-06-14 11:05
Faf de Klerk (Gallo Images)

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 in Bloemfontein. 

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 do that.” 

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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Read more on:    springboks  |  faf de klerk  |  rugby


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