Lack of scrumhalf stocks hurting SA

2017-11-17 09:07
Ross Cronje (Gallo)

Cape Town - The Springboks were uninspiring all over the field against Ireland in Dublin last weekend, but the performance of scrumhalf Ross Cronje stood out as particularly poor. 

There were casualties following another new low for the Boks - Elton Jantjies and Damian de Allende were both axed - but Cronje can count himself extremely lucky to have kept his place. 

Having had a golden opportunity to make the No 9 jersey his own this year, Cronje got off to a good start as the Boks cruised past France and Argentina in their first five Tests of the year. 

Injury ruled Cronje out of two of those, but he had done enough in his first three performances to suggest that the Boks had a reliable scrumhalf in their ranks. 

Another injury meant that he missed the 57-0 nightmare in Albany, but by the time the Boks had finished off their Rugby Championship campaign with a draw against Australia in Bloemfontein and defeat to the All Blacks in Cape Town, Cronje was beginning to find himself on the receiving end of some hefty criticism. 

Those concerns reached new heights on Saturday when Cronje was schooled by his opposite number, Conor Murray, in a performance that was as bad as any in recent Springbok memory. 

Cronje's kicking game was woeful, with his box kicks either going straight up or way too far. 

He simply offered the Boks nothing when they were in possession - his game management and decision-making leaving a lot to be desired. 

Somehow, Cronje has an opportunity to make amends this weekend against France in Paris, but the Ireland massacre reminded us how much South Africa has struggled to replace Fourie du Preez. 

Even in the twilight of his career, Du Preez was a Springbok warrior and a class act. 

Few will forget his match-winning try against Wales in the quarter-final of the 2015 World Cup and that, after Jean de Villiers was ruled out through injury, Du Preez stepped up to captain that side to a very respectable semi-final loss to the All Blacks. 

Du Preez, a World Cup winner in 2007, finished with 76 Test caps and is considered one of the game's great No 9s.

Before that, Joost van der Westhuizen played 89 Test matches for the Boks, also winning a World Cup and also considered one of the best the game has ever seen. 

Van der Westhuizen played from 1993 to 2003, while Du Preez played from 2004 to 2015. For the most part, the Boks have had a world class scrumhalf at their disposal. 

But, since the end of the 2015 World Cup and the beginning of the Allister Coetzee era, that has not been the case. 

Coetzee first backed Faf de Klerk, who despite being an exciting player for the Lions did not cut it at international level. 

Francois Hougaard has also tried, and failed, to stake a claim for the No 9 jersey this year while Cronje is also currently letting his opportunity slip. 

The new overseas-based player policy that has been implemented by SA Rugby means that Cobus Reinach is not available for selection. 

That leaves Rudy Paige, who was not even the out-and-out first choice at the Bulls this year as Nollis Marais backed Piet van Zyl. 

Paige has at least shown glimpses of spark when he has come off the bench for the Boks this year and a start against France had seemed a real possibility before Coetzee opted to back Cronje again. 

You don't quite know what you have until it's gone, and that is very much the case when talking Springbok flyhalves. 

There were many who believed that Du Preez was too old to play at the 2015 World Cup, but his class never disappeared. 

Now, two years after his retirement, the Boks are nowhere near replacing the quality they have been so used to at No 9. 

Saturday is a massive test for Cronje. It is a massive test for a lot of Boks. 

For all of his troubles, Coetzee has been loyal in backing his players this year, even when they have struggled. 

It's time the players start repaying that faith. 

Follow Sport24's @LloydBurnard on Twitter...

Read more on:    springboks  |  ross cronje  |  rugby


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