Faf de Klerk celebrates after scoring a try during the Springboks' RWC quarter-final victory against Japan at Tokyo Stadium. Photo: Mark Baker AP
Faf de Klerk celebrates after scoring a try during the Springboks' RWC quarter-final victory against Japan at Tokyo Stadium. Photo: Mark Baker AP

Off-the-ball presence and defensive pressure give Faf de Klerk the edge

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Oct 22, 2019

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CAPE TOWN – I am going to start with a defence of Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk’s performance against Japan on Sunday. I thought his line-kicking game lacked accuracy, but he is playing to a pre-planned game strategy and his biggest contribution to the Boks is in his scrambling defence and also a frantic attack of the defensive line that is designed to disrupt the opposition’s attack.

De Klerk was named the official Man of the Match after South Africa’s 26-3 quarter-final win against Japan, but to the layman he was everything but the Man of the Match. He was more villain than victor.

I was the MC at Sunday’s #BokTown experience at the V&A Waterfront and the biggest cheer from a packed audience came in the 73rd minute when De Klerk was substituted for Herschel Jantjies, who on his second touch from the base of the ruck, put boot to ball and up it went again.

De Klerk made 36 passes and kicked the ball 17 times. I can’t recall SA regaining possession immediately from De Klerk’s kicks, but a closer analysis of the match a day later showed how effective the kick was in field position and in the Boks eventually getting the ball back. It was also interesting to note how many neutral commentators felt De Klerk and SA’s general line-kicking game to be very effective because of the Boks’ imposing lineout.

Faf de Klerk's off-the-ball presence and defensive pressure give him the edge, says Mark Keohane. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

Emotion plays a part in the condemnation of De Klerk’s pre-planned kicks. SA supporters want to see the Boks win with a ball-in-hand approach that was particularly lethal against the non-existent defence of Canada.

There has been support to start Jantjies or Cobus Reinarch ahead of De Klerk, but take it emphatically that Bok coach Rassie Erasmus won’t deviate from a structured halfback option he sees as crucial to SA succeeding at this World Cup. De Klerk’s off-the-ball presence and defensive pressure is what gives him an edge over the other two. It is the things he does that the television camera doesn’t follow that is making him so important to Erasmus.

De Klerk’s performance was praised by northern-hemisphere critics and the obvious response was that for Wales to be successful against the Boks this Sunday, they will somehow have to work a counter to De Klerk’s all-encompassing presence throughout the game.

Willie le Roux is another Bok who has come under fire for not being in form, but Erasmus’ faith in the fullback will remain consistent. Le Roux has made many basic mistakes at this World Cup and the harder he tries on the ball the more he appears to be in quick sand. Again, though, the word from within the Bok camp, is of his importance in marshalling the collective of the back three, especially with the potent Bok wings only into their second season of international rugby.

The international critics praised the Boks for their calm against Japan and were complimentary of Erasmus for identifying a particular style of play that best suits the strengths of his players.

South Africa's Faf de Klerk (9) celebrates with Damian de Allende after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match at Tokyo Stadium. Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

SA, they said, aren’t as easy on the eye as the All Blacks, but come the semi-final they have a game plan that will be as effective.


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