JON CARDINELLI considers several scrumhalf options available to Rassie Erasmus ahead of the Springboks’ tour to Europe.
Springbok No 9 Faf de Klerk has returned to his English club and looks set to miss the Tests against England, France, Scotland and Wales this November. Sale want De Klerk to focus on the English Premiership now that the Rugby Championship has concluded.
This poses a problem for the Bok coach, who has backed De Klerk at No 9 for much of the Test season. De Klerk has started in nine of the 10 Tests, with Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier the only other players to get game time in this position.
In another sense, De Klerk’s unavailability will present Erasmus with an opportunity to explore other options. Three scrumhalves will travel to the 2019 World Cup. One would hope that all three have a fair number of caps to their names by the time they land in Japan next September.
Erasmus believes that Papier has a great future. The Boks may need the 21-year-old to realise his potential sooner rather than later, though, if they’re going to take a well-rounded group of scrumhalves to the World Cup.
Papier made his debut for the Bulls earlier this year, and shared the starting duties with André Warner and Van Zyl over the course of the Super Rugby campaign. In June, he came off the bench to replace wing Makazole Mapimpi and won his first Test cap. By the end of the Rugby Championship, Papier had accumulated just 15 minutes of game time in the green and gold jersey.
One would expect to see the youngster receiving two or three starting chances in what will be challenging northern hemisphere conditions this November. His tactical kicking, as well as his organisation of the backline, will be under the microscope.
IVAN VAN ZYL
Van Zyl has played 92 minutes for the Boks in 2018. As many as 77 of those 92 minutes came in his debut against Wales in June, though. The 23-year-old has not started for the Boks since.
He has to be backed at some point on the coming tour if Erasmus plans to take him to the World Cup. Like Papier, he will need to show the Bok coaches that he can manage the game as De Klerk has done in some of the previous Tests.
A problem may arise next year, however, when two Bok scrumhalves in Papier and Van Zyl are fighting for a starting spot at the Bulls. Will the Bulls coach – who is yet to be officially named – have the Boks’ interests in mind, and manage Papier and Van Zyl to ensure that both receive enough opportunities before the truncated Rugby Championship and the global tournament?
Cronjé was on the bench when the Boks beat the All Blacks in Wellington several weeks ago. He didn’t get onto the park during that game, though. Apart from that Test, Cronjé hasn’t featured in the Bok match 23 since Erasmus became head coach.
It will be interesting to see how Erasmus goes about selecting his scrumhalves for the tour. One would expect at least one seasoned player to accompany the likes of Papier and Van Zyl to Europe. Cronjé (29) has been on the Super Rugby scene since 2009, and was the Boks’ first-choice No 9 in 2017.
Then again, there must be a reason why Erasmus hasn’t explored this option sooner. Cronjé wasn’t the strongest tactical player across the 2017 Test season, and was found wanting again in the 2018 Super Rugby final.
AN OVERSEAS-BASED OPTION
There’s value in recruiting a player based in the northern hemisphere with a view to the four-match tour in November and to the World Cup. Earlier this year, Erasmus said that former Bok scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who now plays for Northampton, was on his radar.
Reinach will have some fond memories of his last tour to the north with the Boks. The scrumhalf scored a try for South Africa in the 31-28 win against England at Twickenham in 2014. Now playing for the Saints, Reinach was recently quoted as saying that he wants to be a part of the Bok squad that travels to the World Cup next year.
Ruan Pienaar is playing some great rugby for Montpellier in the French Top 14 at the moment, while Francois Hougaard shone in the Worcester Warriors’ 52-7 win over the Bristol Bears last week.
Pienaar’s age (34) may, however, count against him as far a Bok recall is concerned. Hougaard retired from international rugby earlier this year, but when a coach comes calling, some players have been known to change their minds.
However you look at the situation, Erasmus will have some tough decisions to make over the next month or so.
Photo: Daniel Jayo/Getty Images
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