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Sport24.co.za | Boks could live or die over Faf’s fortunes

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Cape Town – Who
else has crazily mixed, confused views over Faf de Klerk’s Springbok career so
far?

My
recollections are either of seriously useful or glaringly rotten matches by the
notably diminutive scrumhalf … with very little in between.

Which begs
the major question of whether he would be the correct call by head coach Rassie
Erasmus to plug their enduringly most problematic hole (and one of the most
“spinal” positions in a rugby team) for the major Test undertakings in June.

Let’s just
say there will significant risks associated with any fresh display of Bok confidence – that’s what the rumour-mill strongly suggests – in the now Sale Sharks-based
No 9.

Although
there may be some suspicion that we are simply “treading water” in the
position, you can hardly blame Erasmus for being seduced by what De Klerk has
to offer, considering the rave reviews he’s been getting in the distant
environs of the English Premiership.

He will want
to believe that the player has added several welcome strings to his overall bow
– raw talent and amazing tenacity have never been problems – since his switch
from the Lions in Johannesburg to a very different climate, in so many
respects, in the chilly English north-west.

Erasmus and
his lieutenants will also be painfully mindful that, despite flashes of promise
from several individuals, no SA-based scrumhalf has amassed utterly compelling
international credentials during Super Rugby 2018 thus far; the post-Fourie du
Preez headache for consistent high quality only continues.

Selection
has been relatively fluid in the berth across the four South African teams in
the competition, only underling the climate of uncertainty.

So any fresh
overtures to De Klerk, 26, are arguably more driven by necessity than a special
sense of eagerness.

Then still with
the Lions, and his Bok selection at least initially well justified by their
rise and rise under Johan Ackermann at the time, De Klerk earned all 11 of his
current Test caps in Allister Coetzee’s rocky (that seldom changed) first
season as national coach in 2016.

In a
nutshell, he was often terrific in the desperately tight home series against
Ireland – eked out 2-1 – and I remember singling him out, for instance, after
the shock 26-20 Newlands loss first-up for top rating, on debut, in a sea of
Bok mediocrity or downright ineptitude.

“Undoubtedly
up for it … constantly effervescent … snappy service,” were out-takes from my
match notes that day, and De Klerk continued in similar vein for the rest of
the series, including with some utterly invaluable moments of supreme awareness
and pure guts on defence as the spoils swung like a pendulum to the very finish
of those bilateral hostilities.

But then
things began to unravel, sometimes rather too violently, for the Bok No 9 as
his deficiencies in calm, astute game management – at least then – became very apparent,
especially as the Rugby Championship turned into a two-wins-from-six disaster
for South Africa, and third place.

He started
to be side-lined, including two bench appearances (behind Rudy Paige) during
the end-of-year tour, and that was it for his international career right up to
this point.

To his
credit, De Klerk seems to have taken all that on the chin, and gone away to
fine-tune his all-round game: clearly nowadays to the pronounced benefit of
Sale.

He was this
week named in an English Premiership Team of the Year, along with compatriot
Willie le Roux of Wasps.

In the
widely-acknowledged, slower-paced landscape of the Premiership, being a smart
“general” at No 9 is often especially vital, so De Klerk has seemingly
blossomed in that respect, indeed, abroad.

But the jury
may also still be out on him back home: there have also been times, after all, when
fellow-South African scrumhalf Francois Hougaard has been massively lauded across
the ocean for his exploits with Worcester Warriors … yet simply underwhelmed all
over again when called back for Bok duty (he has now signalled an end to his
Test career).

Hougaard,
incidentally, was involved in a concussion-causing collision with another past
Springbok No 9, Cobus Reinach, when his team played Worcester on the last day
of ordinary season in the Premiership recently – both men left the park in the
29th minute.

The
seriousness (or otherwise) of Reinach’s injury is not known, although the
10-cap former Durban-based favourite is still fancied by some pundits as best
solution to the Bok woes – he last wore the green and gold jersey against
Argentina in Buenos Aires during 2015.

Mindful of
the near-desperation to solve the No 9 crisis, I have no beef at all with Erasmus
“taking another look” at the enigmatic De Klerk, if that’s what transpires.

But if he does
become the first-choice for their bigger assignments over the four Test
weekends in June, just how smoothly (or not) De Klerk slots in could have a
pivotal bearing on whether the Springboks start back on a much-desired,
collective upward curve …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter:
@RobHouwing





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