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Jaden Hendrikse or Faf de Klerk as Springbok No 9 against All Blacks?

Faf de Klerk could start against the All Blacks. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Faf de Klerk could start against the All Blacks. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Jul 31, 2022

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Cape town - Both men have interesting hairstyles, like to get in the ears of the opposition and the referee, and wear the No 9 on their backs.

But that is where the similarities between Jaden Hendrikse and Faf de Klerk probably end.

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The Sharks half-back has the funky hairstyle and a beard that is unusual for a 22-year-old, while De Klerk – who recently joined Japanese club Canon Eagles – has long blonde locks befitting a model.

But though they play in the same position, there are vast differences in their physical dimensions as well. Hendrikse is 1.84m and 86kg, while De Klerk is 1.72m and 80kg.

Their battle for a Springbok starting berth for next weekend’s Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks at Mbombela Stadium (5.05pm kick-off) is increasing in intensity.

Hendrikse may have the inside lane at the moment, having been preferred to De Klerk in the recent series-deciding victory over Wales.

His passing game – especially his clearing from the base – is fluid, and he finds his ball-carriers with precision, something that De Klerk sometimes doesn’t execute well enough.

Hendrikse’s box-kicks have also been pinpoint for the Sharks and the Boks as he gets good ‘hang-time’ on the ball, which allows chasers such as Makazole Mapimpi to contest for possession in the air.

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De Klerk didn’t look at his sharpest in the opening Wales clash at Loftus Versfeld. But his experience of 36 Test caps would be a consideration for Nienaber before Tuesday’s team announcement.

De Klerk knows the ‘short cuts’ around the pitch, is an outstanding defender – despite his size – and reads the play well, especially in his sweeper role behind the Bok backline.

He is also able to take on the opposition with ball-in-hand around the fringes, and relieves some of the pressure from flyhalf Handre Pollard with his decision-making on attack and defence.

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So, has Hendrikse done enough to earn selection ahead of De Klerk for the All Black showdown? That depends a lot on the kind of strategy Nienaber wants to utilise.

The defence guru has spoken a few times this year about growing their attack in 2022 – something they put on hold last year after the Covid-19 pandemic meant that the Boks were not in action at all in 2020.

The South Africans had to essentially continue with their entrenched percentage game-plan for the British and Irish Lions series and Rugby Championship, although they tried to add some width to their shape in the second Wallabies Test last year.

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Damian Willemse’s selection at full-back on the November tour – before he got injured against Wales – was another indication that Nienaber wanted to bring a different attacking element to the backline, and the Stormers star’s reinstatement at No 15 against Wales this season proved that once more.

There has been a shift to a more attack-minded approach, and Hendrikse seems to be a part of that change due to his smoother service.

Nienaber should not forget, though, that De Klerk was an all-out attacking scrum-half for the Lions when they reached three consecutive Super Rugby finals. Perhaps coming off the bench with the rest of the ‘Bomb Squad’ to raise the tempo in the last 30 minutes could be an ideal role for the 30-year-old, particularly as the All Blacks also like to score points quickly after half-time to take the game away from the opposition.

@AshfakMohamed

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