Johannesburg - Perhaps as a sign of the lack of talent in the area, former Springbok scrum half Werner Swanepoel has almost sheepishly suggested that the Boks pick Ruan Pienaar as an interim halfback for their must-win series against France next month.
With many positions – the captain, hooker, tight head, prop, both flanks, number eight, scrumhalf, flyhalf, the centres, wings and fullback – unfilled, the halfback spot has also come into the spotlight due to the paucity of a standout player in that position.
Pick a youngster with him
With speculation around the result of the three-Test series against France being linked to Bok coach Allister Coetzee’s future refusing to die down, Swanepoel, who played for the Boks from 1997 to 2000, said the holding solution would possibly be to go back to Pienaar.
“If you look at the nines in the country, there has been no real standout. All are pretty standard and aren’t doing too much wrong, but they aren’t doing too much that is great either,” Swanepoel said.
“If you asked me to pick someone regardless of age, I would pick Ruan. He’s not a prospect, but I don’t think he’s too old. He’s got the experience and has played against French teams. Maybe you bring him in and pick a youngster with him and make sure he’s fine by the [2019 Rugby] World Cup”.
The 33-year-old Pienaar, who played behind Fourie du Preez and Ricky Januarie in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, has just parted ways with Irish club side Ulster Rugby following a seven-year stay in Ireland and is understood to be on his way to France.
Swanepoel made it clear that the decision to bring Pienaar back would strictly be a stopgap.
“I’m not sure what Allister’s thoughts will be, but if you asked me who I’d want to go to war with, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.
“It almost feels like you could put everyone’s name on a dartboard and throw darts randomly to see who gets in. No one has put up their hand with a lightning pass or anything like that. You could also pick experience [as is the case with Jano Vermaak], but they’re not experienced at Test level,” Swanepoel said.
Players are coming through
Looking at the available talent, with front-runner Cobus Reinach and last year’s incumbent Faf de Klerk set to leave for English clubs, Swanepoel said the Lions’ Ross Cronjé was probably the most solid and the most underrated.
“He’s a good all-round number nine,” he said. “He’s not going to force things, but when the gap opens, he’ll take it. He can kick and possibly doesn’t have the fastest pass, but nobody has a better pass than he does”.
Swanepoel said he always thought Reinach would be the one to succeed Du Preez and Pienaar, “but, just when he gets going, he gets injured. And now he’s going overseas and he hasn’t played 30 Tests,” he said, alluding to SA Rugby’s ruling that only players with more than 30 caps can be recalled for the Boks from abroad.
He said that combinations could be a solution: “If you look at who’s the form flyhalf, which is Elton Jantjies, maybe you should go with Faf, Ross or both”.
Of the outsiders, Swanepoel said Bok utility back Francois Hougaard and the much improved former Springbok Louis Schreuder could well get a look-in.
“A guy like Hougaard is doing well at my old club Worcester Warriors and I think he’s doing well because they’re playing him at scrumhalf and not wing.
“Schreuder has been in the squad before and, with the Kings doing well, their players are coming through. When it comes to age, he could be in the mix”.
Swanepoel said local rugby was guilty of putting the current crop of scrumhalves under pressure by looking for the next Du Preez – a once-in-a-generation player: “You’d love to have 17 Fouries in your side, but you have to play to the strengths of the nine you have.
“They may not kick as well as he did, but they must have the basic scrumhalf skills they need. The point is to get the ball to the flyhalf as quickly as they can. Sometimes we complicate things”.