Faf de Klerk Not Being Available for the England Test Asks a Larger Question

Faf de Klerk
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 06: Faf de Klerk of South Africa gets his pass away during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa Springboks and New Zealand All Blacks at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Getty Images)

Will Faf de Klerk play in the November Test against England is the question that has been on many Springbok rugby fans minds over the last couple of weeks.

Faf de Klerk: An Important Member of the Springbok Squad

De Klerk has been a bundle of energy for the Springboks in 2018, marshaling their kicking game and being very effective on both attack and defense. He has been the first choice number 9 for Head Coach Rassie Erasmus, with no other scrumhalf getting a serious look-in in 2018.

The problem the Springboks are facing during their Northern Hemisphere End of Year Tour is that the first Test is against England at Twickenham on 3 November, which is outside of the International Test Window. His club, Sale Sharks, are not obliged to release him for this game.  In the greater scheme of Test rugby in 2018, this would not be considered the biggest selection issue any team will face. It does however point to a larger current problem within the South African game.

What if Faf De Klerk was injured just before the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

The current reliance on De Klerk is significant and it would be a real issue for the Springboks if he was unavailable for World Rugby’s showpiece event. The current stocks available are not necessarily as strong as has traditionally been the case. We take a look at a few of the available options should an alternative scrumhalf be required.

Cobus Reinach

Embed from Getty ImagesThe Northampton Saints scrumhalf, capped ten times for the Springboks, is mentioned most by South African fans as their ideal replacement. The fans don’t get to choose the team, but what Reinach does have on his side is experience. He has played Test rugby, Super Rugby and Premiership Rugby. Come the Rugby World Cup, he will be 29 years old and experienced enough to fit the bill. On the down side for Reinach is that he does not seem to be on Erasmus’s radar at this stage and has not been involved in the Springbok training camps.

Embrose Papier

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There is a lot of support for the 21 year old Papier. He shows a lot of promise and appears to have the skill set make the Springbok number 9 jersey his own for a very long time. Would it be ideal for the youngster to be thrown into the cauldron of a Rugby World Cup with two years of Super Rugby exposure and the occasional ten minute spell in Test Rugby though?

Ivan van Zyl

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Van Zyl is one of the scrumhalves who Erasmus has included in his larger squad. Another young player, he would be only 24 years old come the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The same as Papier, he has very limited experience and it would be unlikely to build a successful Rugby World Cup challenge with a rookie scrumhalf. He also shares the number 9 jersey with Papier at the Bulls. The jury will always be out on who the winner will be in this contest until one of either Papier or Van Zyl makes permanent claim to that jersey.

Ross Cronje

Embed from Getty ImagesCronje is currently injured, but forms part of the scrumhalf stocks that Erasmus has selected. The major issue with Cronje’s selection though is that he does not have the natural kicking game that Erasmus relies on. Cronje is very much a passing, distributing type of scrumhalf.  When selected to play, his kicking options have not been accurate and looked like an unnatural style of play for Cronje. At a Super Rugby level his distribution to Elton Jantjes in key for the Emirates Lions, who then makes the kick, pass or run decision.

Ruan Pienaar

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Another option could be the versatile Ruan Pienaar. He has the experience (88 Test Caps) as well as kicking game to fit easily into the Springbok squad. He is very well thought of in European rugby circles and there is no doubting his abilities. There are two considerations that count firmly against Pienaar though. Firstly, he will 35 years old come Rugby World Cup 2019. Secondly, he has not been a part of any Springbok set up since the Springboks campaign in the 2015 edition of the Rugby World Cup. The combination of age and a lack of involvement in the setup would probably exclude him from consideration.

Francois Hougaard

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Many might feel that Francois Hougaard is an option. He would be 31 years old come Rugby World Cup 2019 and has played 46 Tests for South Africa. He can play both a running and kicking game and would appear to be a decent fit into the squad if necessary. What some have missed though is that Hougaard called time on his international career earlier in 2018 to commit his playing future to his English club Worcester Warriors, with a contract extending to 2021.

There are a lot of positives coming out of South African rugby at the moment. Strength in depth in key positions is not one of them.

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