JOHANNESBURG – New Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is confident the problematic scrumhalf position in South African rugby will be sorted out before next year’s World Cup.
Not since the days of Fourie du Preez have the Boks been able to field a No 9 good enough to be considered world class.
Several men have been tried in the green and gold, with varying degrees of success, and in 2018 the Boks, and Erasmus, are again looking for the right man to wear the No 9.
Last season’s first choice Ross Cronje isn’t even part of the first Bok squad of the year, and it’s a big squad of 43 players, which includes four scrumhalves, Erasmus looking at other, younger players with an eye on the future.
But in Faf de Klerk, 26, the former Lions star and a man who hit the big time in 2016 with the Boks before moving to Sale Sharks in England, Erasmus believes he has a “senior” player who can help the three younger men in his squad.
There is little doubt De Klerk, with 11 Bok caps and who’s coming off a stellar season with Sale after being named their Player of the Year, will be Erasmus’s first choice against England later this month and possibly also in the Rugby Championship.
He will be Erasmus’s banker, but it is hoped the three rookies in the current squad - Ivan van Zyl, 22, Cameron Wright, 24, and Embrose Papier, 21, will develop into scrumhalves who will in future be talked about as good enough for any Bok team.
Erasmus admitted yesterday he and the franchise coaches needed to do everything they could to grow the depth at scrumhalf.
“There’s no problem with the potential of the players and the talent that’s going around,” said Erasmus ahead of his first Test in charge of the Boks, against Wales in Washington on Saturday.
“But there is a bit of a problem when it comes to having scrumhalves with experience and who have played a lot of matches for their franchises.
“But this is something we can fix, if we’re consistent in our selections up to the World Cup. If players are performing, we all need to be consistent then and select them.”
For this weekend’s match in Washington, Erasmus has opted to start with the Bulls’ Van Zyl, with Papier, also from the Bulls, on the bench.
The Sharks’ Wright will travel with the squad to the US but won’t feature in the match; he’s been picked more to learn and get a feel for the Springbok environment.
For next week’s first Test against England, De Klerk is sure to be the starter.
“Getting Faf in (from overseas) brings steadiness (to the position),” said Erasmus. “A guy like Embrose we need to back to 2023... he can learn a lot in the meantime.
“Then there’s Cameron, and Ivan has been consistent since getting into the starting line-up (at the Bulls). But there also a guy like Louis Schreuder who’s close (to the squad) as well.”
Van Zyl is one of seven uncapped players picked for the starting team to face Wales, with a further six newcomers on the bench.
Erasmus said he hoped there wouldn’t be too much “rustiness” in the young and exciting side having only started on-field preparations on Monday.
“We’ve tried our best to feed information to the players prior to us getting together this week,” explained the new Bok boss.
“Everyone knows what we’re trying to do but getting the players to think the same way on the field is always going to be a challenge. But we’ve worked hard the last two days and I’m confident we’ll be okay.”
Erasmus also made it clear that several positions in the team for the first Test against England next Saturday were up for grabs so the players travelling to the US had plenty to play for.
“Between seven and 10 guys who’re going over will get into the mix for next week,” he confirmed.
Saturday’s match kicks off at 11pm SA time.