YOKOHAMA – South Africa’s scrumhalf Faf de Klerk is not concerned by the criticism levelled at the Springboks and certain individual players because of the game plan employed in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) quarterfinal win over Japan at the weekend.
Instead, as the Boks prepare for their RWC semifinal against Wales on Sunday, De Klerk believes it’s a sign of passion for the team rather than any form of negativity.
De Klerk was one of the key players in delivering the kicking plan of the team and has been the subject of much commentary and criticism, especially on social media.
“Players always say they try and stay away from it, but it’s impossible not to see what is being put out there,” said De Klerk.
“Some of the stuff is funny, and I really enjoy some of the stuff that people come up, but some guys also get a bit personal.
“But people love the Springboks and they are very invested in the team. If they see something go wrong, or if they’re not agreeing with it (gameplan), they let us know.
“It’s not because they’re negative; it’s because they’re invested and we appreciate that as players because we know we have great support behind us.
“At the end of the day, when we win, they are going to be happy that we got the job done.
“But we know in the camp what works for us and what doesn’t, and we try and listen to the coaching staff and the players around us – that’s the main thing.
“If you get caught up in that stuff, you’re losing focus on what you need to do.”
One view on social media is that the Boks’ kicking strategy surrenders possession to the opposition. However, the Springboks have conceded only nine tries in 10 matches this season, while scoring 49: a fair return from “kicking away possession”.
“We do kick a lot, but we try and read the game and we try and get momentum,” said the Springbok scrumhalf.
“So, if you look at this weekend, we did kick a lot in the air and Japan really managed to contain our aerial battle.
“But we managed to get a positive outcome from so much territorial gain with our defence. When we kicked, they may have gained possession but rarely managed to do anything with it.”
De Klerk noted that, against Wales, the Springboks would face a team deploying their own distinct kicking strategy.
“It’s going to be a different game this weekend,” he said.
“I don’t think we’re going to have the same threat like that. It’s all about seeing space and I think our wings have come so far in the past two years.
“They are competing well in the air. If we can do that again this weekend and get a few balls back in the air against their good wingers – where it’s going to be a massive battle in the air – it’d be good.
“It’s going to be up to nine, 10 and 15 to decide what style of kick to use. We don’t always go out with a set plan of me kicking. We read the game and listen a lot to what Handré (Pollard) is telling me.”
Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick agreed: “We’re expecting a tough battle, especially with the Welsh kicking game.
“They have got a solid kicking game behind their plan. They have a few top-class players when it comes to the boot, like Gareth Davies at nine, and guys like (Liam) Williams and (Dan) Biggar, who have a lot of experience.
“They are a territory-driven team. They always suffocate teams by not allowing them into their half.”
De Klerk added: “It’s going to be a different struggle against Wales. They’re one of the teams that kick the most and they back their defence.
“For us, it’s first of all to handle their territorial kicking pressure and we have to try to get an opportunity to break down their defence. But they do so well because their system is amazing.
“There’ll be few opportunities for us to get into their half and into their 22, and we need to get points from those visits.
“If we don’t, we’re going to struggle in this game. It’s going to come down to three or four moments when they give us a chance. We’re going to have to use that advantage with everything we have.”