DURBAN – This time last year Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus was stressing about his scrumhalf depth behind Faf de Klerk, but now a position of weakness has become a strength.
Going into Saturday’s Rugby Championship match against the Pumas in Salta, Erasmus will be equally happy to start one of De Klerk, Herschel Jantjies or Cobus Reinach whereas this time last year he was puzzling over Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier as his alternative to De Klerk.
Historically, South Africa has always been blessed with first-rate scrumhalves but following the retirement of the impeccable Fourie du Preez after the 2015 World Cup, the No 9 jersey has been the sole preserve of De Klerk, with little competition.
In 2016, Allister Coetzee opted for De Klerk ahead of Rudy Paige, who had been the understudy to Du Preez at the World Cup, but with Paige fading from the picture, Erasmus last year trialled Papier and Van Zyl as the back-up to De Klerk.
Neither firmly put up their hand… And the situation became more complicated in Super Rugby this year when those two (both of them Bulls players) found themselves behind Andre Warner at the Pretoria-based franchise.
Van Zyl started against England last year on the basis of being a good tactical kicker, but he never really took his opportunity. Papier, the more enterprising of the two, on attack likewise could not nail down the back-up spot to De Klerk. Erasmus, uneasy about the scrumhalf situation last year, has got it right on two fronts this year, one though planning and the other through good fortune.
In the first instance he made the call to bring back Reinach, the Northampton and former Sharks scrumhalf that has been setting the English Premiership ablaze. Reinach was omitted from the 2015 World Cup squad for Paige in what was an unfortunate choice by then coach Heyneke Meyer.
And then in Super Rugby this year, a certain Herschel Jantjies had a lively season with the Stormers and well done to Erasmus for rewarding the diminutive scrumhalf with game time against the Wallabies and then the All Blacks. The jack-in-the-box 23-year-old has scored three tries in two cameos off the bench to emphatically solve Erasmus’ scrumhalf concerns.
Also, Reinach was superb in July when he came on for Jantjies against the Wallabies (De Klerk was one of the players who went to New Zealand early) at Ellis Park.
In short, the scrumhalf weakness of last year is now a towering strength. Erasmus now has three exceptional players in De Klerk, Jantjies and Reinach, and the coach knows that he can start with any of the three or give a cameo role to any of them.
Right now, it will work for Erasmus to start with the dynamic, experienced De Klerk and then bring on the irrepressible Jantjies.
Should either of those players gets injured during the World Cup, Erasmus knows that he has world-class cover in Reinach.
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