DURBAN – One of the first things coach Rassie Erasmus uttered to the English media on the Springboks’ arrival in London on Monday was that he was “thin on the ground with regard to experienced scrumhalves”, which begs the question: Whose fault is that?
The fact is that the Bok coach has made a rod for his own back by not giving meaningful game time to scrumhalves Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl during the England series and Rugby Championship.
It can also be argued, though, that Erasmus felt his best chance of building a winning culture in the short-term was to flog every minute he could out of Faf de Klerk.
It is a weak argument because we have also been hearing from the coach all season that he has to build depth ahead of the World Cup.
And he has tried various players in every position except scrumhalf, which suggests that he does not trust their abilities.
Now he has to pick one of them for one of the toughest Tests of the year, England at Twickenham, and whether it is Papier or Van Zyl, you can’t blame them if they don’t hit the ground running.
Sitting on the bench all year does that to you.
At least Van Zyl has been getting Currie Cup game time for the Blue Bulls, but it borders on criminal that Papier went from being on the bench for the Boks behind De Klerk to being on the bench for the Bulls behind Van Zyl.
It would not happen in New Zealand, where the All Blacks come first and the provinces second. It is an insult to Papier that he was embarrassed in this manner by the Bulls.
Or course, Van Zyl and Papier have been through this in Super Rugby too, and it is also interesting that the games in which John Mitchell picked Papier were against New Zealand opposition.
This is probably because he is the more physical of the two. He is small... but dynamite comes in small packages.
Originally from Clanwilliam in the Western Cape, he was signed by the Bulls as a schoolboy and he finished at Hoerskool Garsfontein.
Van Zyl, two years older than Papier, is Pretoria born and bred, and he came through the Affies and Bulls age-group systems.
Van Zyl is a tactically astute scrumhalf, with his calculated box-kicking modelled on that of his hero Fourie du Preez. For this reason we should not be surprised if Erasmus goes with Van Zyl on Saturday.
It would be a conservative decision based on the northern-hemisphere conditions, but is it the right one?
Mitchell picked Papier against the Kiwis because he is physical, very fast around the field, has a snappy pass and suited the rugby Mitchell wanted to play.
Mitchell, England’s defence coach on Saturday, would likely be pleased if Papier is not picked.
Papier played two years for SA Schools and then for two years was the SA Under-20 scrumhalf.
With the SA Under-20 team, he was the catalyst in a brilliant backline featuring Curwin Bosch, Damian Willemse and Manie Libbok.
He has the pedigree, and he should now be backed at senior level.