CAPE TOWN – By beating England 2-1 in the three-Test series back in June, Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks certainly got 2018 off to a good start. But the assessment will continue when the Rugby Championship kicks off next week, with the Boks’ first challenge coming in Durban against Argentina.
At a press conference in Stellenbosch on Monday, Erasmus said that winning will always be the goal, and that winning objective can certainly only be made easier if you have a scrumhalf who knows how to go about his business.
So, as Erasmus and his Boks prepare for their first assignment against Los Pumas, we weigh up the four scrumhalves in the 35-man squad.
Ivan van Zyl
Recent memory of the Bulls scrumhalf’s outings with the Boks aren’t extremely pleasant ones. His poor decision-making and seemingly incessant kicking against Wales was a big part of frustration that the Boks’ performance at the RFK Stadium caused.
After two off-the-bench appearances against England in June, it might be a bit premature to write the “in-between guy” (as Erasmus described him on Monday) off completely. But it’s certainly going to take more than shouts from behind the pack to prove it.
His performance off the bench for the Newlands Test was far from enough to show the kind of talent SA Rugby really has when it comes to Papier. His raw pace, ability to speed up a game and general attacking ability as well as his defensive work make him a real gem.
Erasmus was spot on when he said that Papier is “a guy who learns something every minute from Faf (de Klerk)” - he obviously isn’t the finished product yet. But if the focus is long-term (after all, Erasmus has often spoken about building towards the World Cup) then every one of those minutes should be used to help grow Papier’s game.
In June, it was Cameron Wright whose name was on the list instead of Cronje’s, and on Monday Erasmus said that you just can’t ignore a scrumhalf who takes his team to a Super Rugby final. Sure, it does say something, and while Cronje has shown that he can be a reliable option, it’s hard to see his performances as enough to take the pre-Rugby Championship favourite tag from Faf de Klerk.
On Cronje’s inclusion in the squad, Erasmus said: “I’ve never coached or worked with Ross, but just like with Ivan - who kept on performing at the start - it’s just fair to have a look at him, and maybe he even starts or he comes into the mix or maybe we release him after a few weeks. But it’ll be good to have a look at him.”
Faf de Klerk
It would be stating the obvious to say that De Klerk is the main man at No 9 going into the Rugby Championship. The form he showed with Sale Sharks was superb, and his performances for the Boks - performances that again proved instrumental - should have done enough to show that he should be the starting No 9.
In June it was his sharp decision-making, his great touchfinders, his proper tactical kicking, his demonic defence and his try at Ellis Park (the one that sparked a comeback) that did enough to perfectly package the exciting contributions that De Klerk has become expected to bring. So, needless to say, he should be the Boks’ top choice come the Rugby Championship.
And if Papier can be his back-up and rack up the minutes off the bench that Erasmus knows will do him well, then the position that was seen as a South African problem only a few months ago should become a flourishing one quite soon.