CAPE TOWN – Those blond locks often bobbing along when he gets back to make a cover tackle, or even contest a breakdown, has quickly made Faf de Klerk a key cog in the Springbok set-up.
At least in the eyes of coach Rassie Erasmus. In fact, so much so, that the former Lions star plays the full 80 minutes most of the time for the Boks.
De Klerk is at his best when he gets the backline going with a quick service from the base to the flyhalf, runs good supporting lines on attack, and makes those inspirational tackles to stop a try.
But the problem is that far too often, that is not what he has been doing.
Instead, he is continually trying his hand at box-kicks, which aren’t high enough and often go too far, allowing great counter-attackers such as Israel Folau and Ben Smith to get going.
In the lead-up to those box-kicks, all the momentum that the forwards may have generated is lost, as De Klerk takes an age in playing “traffic cop” as he tells the big men to get behind him in order to kick.
Now, this is not actually a critique of De Klerk. The 26-year-old (he turns 27 on October 19), gives his heart and soul to the Bok effort, and never shirks responsibility.
But has it just become all too much for the Sale Sharks No 9? Erasmus has done him no favours by refusing to give any game time to the likes of Embrose Papier and Ross Cronjé this year.
This was most evident against the Wallabies in Brisbane, where De Klerk battled as much as Willie le Roux did on the slippery Suncorp Stadium pitch.
Almost everything he did went wrong, yet Papier remained glued to the bench.
While it was the handling errors throughout that cost the Boks in the 23-18 defeat, guess who gave the ball away that ended the visitors’ final attack? You’re right, De Klerk…
He showed his class by lifting his game the next week in the epic victory over the All Blacks in Wellington, but was again below-par in last Saturday’s workmanlike display in Port Elizabeth.
There are reports that he may not be available for the Boks on the end-of-year tour, so why hasn’t Erasmus had a proper look at Papier?
The Bulls youngster is familiar with Bok pivot Handré Pollard, and would’ve been playing on his home ground at Loftus this weekend.
There’s nothing like seeing if someone can handle the big time by putting him up against the world champions…
Let’s hope that De Klerk still has one more big performance in him against the All Blacks on Saturday, unless Erasmus springs a massive surprise when he names his team on Thursday.