Faf de Klerk says his stint at English Premiership club Sale Sharks has made him an all-round better player. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - Faf de Klerk is ready for anything England throw at him during the three-Test series this month. And, he said, after spending this last season playing in the Premiership for the Sale Sharks, he is a far better player than when he last ran out for the Springboks.

The 26-year-old former Lions star didn’t feature at all for the Boks last season after being ignored by then coach Allister Coetzee, who, rumour has it, laid much of the blame for the Boks’ woes in 2016 at the door of the scrumhalf, with his kicking game coming under plenty of scrutiny. This after De Klerk was the first-choice scrumhalf and featured in 11 Tests in 2016.

An offer to join Sale after last year’s Super Rugby campaign was too good to refuse for the young No 9, who went on to shine in England and demonstrate there is nothing wrong with his ability to kick the ball from the base of rucks and scrums. Overall, he was one of the stars in the Premiership.

“My moving to England has definitely paid off. I’ve enjoyed my rugby there and improved; my all-round decision-making on the field, when to kick and when to play, it’s all got better,” he said. “I’ve learnt to not just go balls to the wall, to attack as hard as possible. There has been a lot more responsibility on me to take control of games, to manage games better.”

He said there was never a weakness in his tactical kicking game; just that he was never required to kick much playing in a Lions team that preferred to run with the ball on most occasions. “There was a lot of criticism (during his time at the Boks in 2016), I but always felt I was a good kicker of the ball,” said De Klerk. “We just never applied it where I played; we didn’t kick a lot at the Lions, and then I came into the Bok set-up and it was (required) more.

"If we applied it more at the Lions, I would have been better for it. But going overseas definitely improved it (the kicking) a lot. I had most of the kicking on me (at the Sale Sharks) and all our exits were off nine (scrumhalf), so it has been good for me and my game.”

On Monday, England No 9 Ben Youngs said De Klerk would be a big threat to their side this weekend and someone that they’d look to keep under wraps. His opposite number in turn said on Tuesday that it wasn’t necessarily he the English would target but the scrumhalf in general.

“They’ll definitely target the rucks and the nine; it’s a big part of the game in England. They like to pressurise there, so it’s not only me but every nine; that’s what they do,” said the stocky scrumhalf. “They feel if they can stop the ball there or create slow ball, or a bad pass by the nine, their line speed (at the back) will kill you. So I think we’re going to need to get our rucking structures in place, be strong there, and then get quick ball to counter their line speed.”

After a year away from the Boks - during a time when his former Lions teammate Ross Cronje became the first-choice national No 9 - De Klerk is just happy to have been given a second chance so quickly by new coach Rassie Erasmus.

"It’s great being back. It’s always enjoyable being part of the Boks. I didn’t think it would happen so soon (after leaving last year). I feel blessed and excited about what the future holds,” he said.

The Star

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