SA short on Test-class No 9s

2012-03-06 14:03

Cape Town - For a match between the two South African sides who reached the playoffs phase in last season’s competition, Saturday’s Super Rugby meeting between the Stormers and Sharks at Newlands may have been high on tension but it failed rather lamentably for quality.

A key reason for that slightly worrying hallmark, I felt, was the frailty to varying degrees on the day of both sets of halfback pairings – Frenchman Frederic Michalak (at No 9) and Pat Lambie for the Sharks and Dewaldt Duvenage and Gary van Aswegen for the home side.

Essential conduits for creative play across the field, neither duo displayed any consistency, cohesion or ability to grab a sloppy, stop-start sort of fixture by the scruff of the neck and at least start to dictate it to some extent.

Things did get a little better from a Stormers point of view some six minutes after the break when Peter Grant, just back from Japan, replaced the still-rookie Van Aswegen at flyhalf and, while rusty and nothing like the authoritative character of some two or three years ago yet, at least brought some sort of “presence” to the slot.

In fairness, neither Van Aswegen nor the prodigiously talented Lambie, directly opposite him throughout the first half and then head-to-head against Grant, had the luxury of compelling performances from the men on their inside who provide them with the “pill”.

Duvenage, it must be pointed out, is still feeling his way back from a layoff (yes, it showed) and had not had the luxury of any part in pre-season activity, so the expectation in the Stormers camp will certainly be that he gets sharper both in terms of service and tactical kicking – an area where both teams were mostly sub-standard on Saturday.

Sadly, too, versatile Michalak generally only confirmed the fear in many circles that he is a bit of a fish out of water at No 9 and far more comfortable and mercurial when pulling the strings at pivot.

Doubtless watching the game with more than passing interest, new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer might not have too unsettled by what he saw in the flyhalf channel, especially given that further north in the country Bok incumbent Morne Steyn was involved in an intriguing (albeit surprisingly one-sided, ultimately) ding-dong with exciting Cheetahs phenomenon Johan Goosen and there are also the burgeoning claims of Elton Jantjies to consider.

But I can’t help wondering whether Meyer isn’t quietly concerned about a relative dearth at present of genuinely Test-class options at No 9?

Of course the name of Francois Hougaard swiftly leaps out as a reassuring presence to many, who view him as the logical replacement should the great, now Japan-based Fourie du Preez be deemed not to have any future in a national team jersey.

It will be fascinating, naturally, to monitor his progress as new first-choice at scrumhalf for the Bulls this season, even if it is unfortunate that he has copped a one-match ban for a tip tackle that will keep him out of first exposure to overseas opposition in Super Rugby this year, when the Blues visit Loftus on Saturday and he would have opposed either (or perhaps both) of All Blacks Alby Mathewson and Piri Weepu.

Hougaard brings an array of skills to the party, even if a gut feel remains in me that, because he is instinctive and sometimes impulsive (that not necessarily a flaw, of course) his best position for weaving his magic and eternal vibrancy is on the wing, where he has often looked so dangerous as an impact factor for South Africa.

You have to be a bit of a “general” at scrumhalf, after all, with great awareness of tactical considerations in the various zones on the park, and his big challenge is going to be to match the outstanding authority and peripheral vision of former Loftus stablemate Du Preez in that regard.

The rest of the SA scrumhalf crop in Super Rugby at present does not make for especially awe-inspiring reading, in truth.

Charl McLeod at the Sharks has never subsequently matched his stellar efforts of 2010, when he catapulted into the Bok end-of-year picture, which perhaps partly explains why Michalak has been getting some scrumhalf starts, although that may just change soon.

With improved game-time, the Stormers’ 23-year-old Duvenage is likely to “grow” into the new season, although whether he is international quality remains a matter for debate and the same, with respect, applies to players like the Lions’ Michael Bondesio and the Cheetahs pair of Tewis de Bruyn and the considerably younger Piet van Zyl.

Indeed, the already faltering Cheetahs may well be rueing the departure for the Waratahs, and a possible onward career with the Wallabies, of Sarel Pretorius who may have his defensive critics but does bring X-factor to the berth.

There is still Ulster-based Ruan Pienaar to consider (remember that he was briefly linked with a return to SA in the shape of the Stormers last year), but at almost 28 and with 51 Bok caps to his name, arguably we remain none the wiser as to his regular claims to the Bok scrumhalf position -- exceptional positional versatility has not really been his best friend over the years, when you think about it.

With whispers coming in from Japan that Du Preez is in better physical nick now than he was at the World Cup last year (coming off a long-term injury, let’s not forget), I believe the environment, based on the first couple of weeks of Super Rugby play, may only be getting better, not more far-fetched, for his possible return to Bok duty under the Meyer regime.

Detractors may mutter “has-been” all they like; in calendar terms the richly-proven No 9 maestro still only hits his 30th year later this month ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


  • Lionel - 2012-03-06 14:24

    If Hougaard is gonna be the test 9 then thats where he should play all the time!!!!!!

      Stormkaap - 2012-03-06 16:34

      Manus coming from a Stormers supporter, Duvenhage is a journeyman scrummie. He lacks imagination and is average(should never even be considered for Bok selection, or even Stormers). Pretorious looked good for the Tahs and actually tackled! Liked the look of Van Zyl for the Cheetahs. Hougie has the inside lane and Bondesio not bad at all. And of course Vermaak.

      sadilligaf - 2012-03-06 17:07

      Lionel, I agree 100%. Quite frankly, I think that Heyneke should also insist that Lambie plays at fullback - its his best position, and we have enough good 10s, but a bit of a weakness at 15. @Stormkaap - I see no reason why Pretorius should not be considered - between him and Hougie, I think we have two world class scrummies, I like Janno too, and Piet van Zyl is definitely one to watch for the future. So I really don't know what Rob Houwing is on about....

  • Hanno - 2012-03-06 14:33

    Du Preez, Hougaard, Jano Vermaak, Sarel Pretorius....still enough there methinks....

      Bulldozer - 2012-03-06 15:29

      & Duvenhage. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

      Manus - 2012-03-06 16:02

      Duvenhage is actually a good scrummie - except, of course, if you look at him from a provincially biased point of view. At the moment Hougaardt is the man, but if we can get Fourie du Preez back and at somewhere near his best, I'd always go for him.

      Bulldozer - 2012-03-06 16:10

      Manus, I'm completely unbiased.

      Saffa - 2012-03-06 16:12

      @Manus Duvenhage good?? Maybe in a under-9 setting you idiot

      Bulldozer - 2012-03-06 16:24

      Saffa, my laaitie het 3-4 jaar terug 0/9 gespeel en Duvenhage sou nooit span kry nie. Hy is soos die vet seuntjie wat altyd laaste gekies is.

      Sulaiman - 2012-03-06 16:27

      Hougaard is good but I prefer him on the wing I think that his prefered postion also. He snipes good but still a bit lazy to get to the ball all the time. Prefer Jano Vermaak to be the scrummie for the bulls.

      Japjapjap - 2012-03-06 17:23

      @Sulaiman- if yo want to know anything.. ask raven, she knows everything!

      Japjapjap - 2012-03-06 18:10

      if yo want to know anything.. ask raven, she knows everything!

  • Nico - 2012-03-06 14:40

    Just the other day we didn't had quality flyhalves, now we have an abundance, same will happen with scrumhalves, we already have Hougaard, Vermaak and Pretorius playing in the super15, and there is some excellent youngsters playing in the varsity cup. Once the varsity cup is finished I'm sure some of them will start playing super rugby. In other words, don't panic :)

      Manus - 2012-03-06 16:03

      It's just a slow day at the office, Nico, and Houwing is trying to stir something up.

  • Heiner - 2012-03-06 14:46

    Yip, the best one they had, they let go to play for NSW Waratahs. What idiots!

      Heiner - 2012-03-06 14:52

      Yeah but would it not be better if he was playing for the Sharks or Bulls for that matter.

      Sulaiman - 2012-03-06 16:21

      The best by far I am coining it in my fantasy league with Sarel Pretoruis as my scrummie.

      Japjapjap - 2012-03-06 17:24

      if yo want to know anything.. ask raven, she knows everything!

  • Christian J Denyschen - 2012-03-06 15:18

    Wat i K/-\K berig kan amper nie glo ek het dit kla gelees nie dis hoopelik te vroeg om sulke snert te wil skryf, na twee rontes besluit die man ons het nie n no 9 nie! Die opskrif moet lees sport24 short on quality writers!

  • Grant - 2012-03-06 15:26

    I would not fetch FDP from Japan. Sarel Pretorious, Hougaard and Jano Vermaak all good enough in my humble opinion.

  • Saffa - 2012-03-06 16:08

    No we're not. Fourie and Hougie

  • heinrich.beukes1 - 2012-03-06 16:14

    We are not short of NO 9'S. Hougaard, Pretorius and Bondesio if he played like last year, his first two games was alot like Fourie du Preez looking at who to pass and not keeping an eye on the ball.

  • Micheal - 2012-03-06 16:23

    I think Charl Macleod is highly underated. Maybe not first choice scrummy but definitly second in line behind Hougaard. Both times he came on for the sharks, the game changed!

      Saffa - 2012-03-06 16:27

      Michael Highly OVER-rated you wanted to say

  • Carol - 2012-03-06 16:47

    Well, why did they allow Sarel Pretorius to leave and go to the Waratahs? He is excellent. Next the Australians will nab him, even though they have many good scrumhalfs.

  • Herman - 2012-03-06 17:01

    Daar is heelwat opkomende #9s. Hulle moet net die gelentheid gegee word om in die bok trui in te shape.

  • Sport - 2012-03-06 22:11

    stormkaap noem jy jouself n stormer...bulldozer you and saffa do you know anything about rugby?duvenage is a good scrumhalf he just needs some confidence after a 3month injury. people like you normally think you know rugby but there is no rugby knowledge in those small brain headed minds of keepyour comments to yourself...hougaard definately the first choice after 2weeks of super rugby.lets hope the other provinces scrumhalves can up their games>

  • pete.rudder - 2012-03-07 08:14

    What's the panic? Hougaard and Pretorius.

  • Darroll - 2012-03-07 10:34

    It is incredible that Ruan Pienaar did not feature in this story. He is playing sublimely at No 9 in the UK. He is the obvious Bok choice

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