Port Elizabeth - Springbok backline coach Franco Smith was playing his cards close to his chest when he was asked at a press conference on Tuesday what the plan would be were first choice flyhalf Elton Jantjies to be injured in the early phases of the Rugby Championship.
It is a question that has been a vexing one ever since head coach Allister Coetzee announced a 33-man squad that included two flyhalf back-ups for Jantjies that both had provisos next to their names when he explained their selections. Handre Pollard is the most experienced test match pivot in the squad with 20 caps but is still going through the rehabilitation process after a series of injuries, while Coetzee said that Curwin Bosch was selected to help his development as a potential international player.
While Smith said that 20-year-old Bosch was coachable and definitely a player for the future, he didn’t give a ringing endorsement of his readiness to play test match rugby right now. Neither did he sound optimistic that Pollard, who should challenge Jantjies for the starting spot once he is fully fit, will be ready to play just yet.
Smith said he would like Bosch to find his feet more in Super Rugby, which isn’t the same as saying he is ready for test rugby. However, with no other obvious flyhalf candidates in the squad now that Frans Steyn is back in France and not part of the squad, Bosch could well find himself being blooded off the bench in Saturday’s first Rugby Championship test against Argentina.
“Curwin is still very young and he obviously has a lot of development ahead of him. I would like to see him find his feet more at Super Rugby level, but what has struck me is that he is very coachable and also approachable,” said Smith.
“We know that Curwin has an extraordinary kicking game, and he is a threat on attack. There are questions about his defence, but defence can be a product of the environment you are in. If he works hard on his individual skills, he can add to the defensive system that is in place.”
When it comes to Pollard, Smith said he was pleased with the progress that the Bulls star has made over the past week, but made it clear that the selection was more likely to happen “down the line” rather than for this Saturday.
“Handre is definitely making good progress and has improved a lot over the past week, but what is important for him is that we just get him back on his feet,” said Smith.
“We want to take the pressure off the new guys, as well as those coming back from injury. We have a plan for every player, and if Handre keeps working hard, he will give himself the best chance of being selected down the line.
“I tend to take the view of using November 2019 as my starting point, meaning the World Cup, and then working backwards from there when it comes to planning. There are a number of players we want to give opportunities to, and they must just be ready when their chance comes. We have long-term plans in place, and when it is Handre’s or anyone else’s turn, they must just be ready to take it.”
When asked the direct question on the plan if Jantjies goes down right now, Smith made it clear he was fudging it.
“We will just have to wait until something happens to Elton before we know the answer to that question,” said Smith.
“I don’t want to comment on that for fear that we set up false hopes or make players disappointed. Obviously we know which players are in for the flyhalf role, and what has been pleasing has been the way that both Curwin and Handre have picked up what is expected of them over the past week. They are being introduced to a new system and we have been delighted with the way they have absorbed the detail.”
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