Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Sorting
out that ever-problematic scrumhalf arsenal … the job’s not quite ticked off yet
by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus as he weighs up World Cup year.
de Klerk remains fairly entrenched as the first-choice No 9 whenever available,
and is becoming reassuringly experienced at all levels: he is 27,
well-travelled and holder of 21 Bok caps at this point.
should have swelled a bit further by the time South Africa open their RWC 2019
account against arch-rivals New Zealand at Yokohama on September 21.
back-up situation remains more blurry, with a tight tussle between the likes of
Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Louis Schreuder (Sharks) and possibly another
overseas-based player, Cobus Reinach of Northampton, for extra berths in the
Bok squad next year.
been dormant at Test level since 2015, but if the nippy former Sharks star
keeps excelling in club activity in the northern hemisphere he may yet crack
the World Cup nod at the expense of one of the others.
respect, resumption of the in-house tussle at the Bulls shortly between Papier
and Van Zyl becomes especially relevant in Super Rugby 2019.
on the limited weight of their respective opportunities at Test level this
year, it is probably safe to say that Papier has nosed ahead in the specific
Zyl, over the course of six appearances (two starts), provided a tidy enough
service at times and was noticeably willing and committed on track-back defence,
he provided no special cutting edge in the influential position, either.
where 21-year-old Papier, who turned out seven times in the green and gold –
also with two starts – almost certainly demonstrated superior credentials.
Klerk unavailable for the last two end-of-year tour clashes, against Scotland
and Wales respectively, the Clanwilliam-born former SA Schools and U21
scrumhalf had the rare phenomenon for him of successive, near full-length rugby
Murrayfield game ended in victory and the Millennium Stadium one in defeat,
Papier generally ticked the boxes for personal performance.
educatively for the Bulls as well, he linked up extremely well with Handre
Pollard as the “nine and ten” alliance against the Scots, where both were
extremely influential in the 26-20 outcome in SA favour.
But the pair
had also operated as a unit all too seldom for the Bulls in their bumpy 2018
season when, under John Mitchell’s short-lived head coaching charge, Papier
only started three of 16 Super Rugby matches.
Van Zyl enjoyed eight appearances in the run-on XV and the other scrumhalf in
the Loftus frame, Andre Warner, got five.
Mitchell seemed to think both Van Zyl and Warner were better “game managers”
than Papier, overlooking his more mercurial qualities much of the time.
It will be
interesting, against that backdrop, to see whether the new regime of Alan
Zondagh – a former No 9 himself and the director of rugby – and, perhaps more
importantly, head coach Pote Human are prepared to give Bok incumbent Papier a
better run as first choice in the berth in 2019.
quest to excel on the highest stage, after all, was hardly helped earlier this
year by just how little first-class exposure he had behind him, meaning he must
have struggled at times to muster best sharpness and perhaps even necessary durability
for the task … he is one of those players all too used to the “splinters”.
Zyl and Warner look like remaining the main three Loftus-based scrumhalves at
the outset of Human’s Super Rugby tenure, and many of the long-suffering faithful
at the ground will probably be rooting for a Papier-Pollard combination immediately
behind the scrum when they open their 2019 account against the Stormers (in
Pretoria) on February 16.
It could be
very much in the national interest.
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