No 10 is No 1 Bok pri­or­ity

Plenty of back-up needed at fly­half

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT - MIKE GREENAWAY

Dur­ban

IN THE 2011 Rugby World Cup fi­nal, it was All Blacks fly­half Stephen Don­ald who kicked the win­ning points in the low-scor­ing arm wres­tle be­tween France and New Zealand.

It was “cometh the hour cometh the man,” or more ac­cu­rately for coach Steve Hansen, it was cometh the fifth­choice fly­half... Dan Carter had been in­jured early in the tour­na­ment, and then a string of re­place­ments went down too, even­tu­ally lead­ing to Don­ald get­ting a call on his cell­phone while fish­ing on the Waikato River.

It is tales such as this one that Rassie Eras­mus is bear­ing in mind when he speaks of the vi­tal ne­ces­sity of stack­ing up qual­ity play­ers in each po­si­tion, es­pe­cially in the spine of the team – hooker, No 5 lock, No8, scrumhalf, fly­half and full­back.

To­gether with win­ning and trans­for­ma­tion, build­ing depth is a prin­ci­pal fea­ture of the man­date given to the new Spring­bok coach by his em­ploy­ers, and we have seen Eras­mus tack­ling all three in his five Test matches in charge thus far, even if depth en­hance­ment came at the ex­pense of win­ning in two of the matches – against Wales and in the third Test against Eng­land.

And in this re­gard the vi­tal fly­half po­si­tion is of ma­jor con­cern to Eras­mus.

It is clear that he has set­tled on Han­dré Pol­lard as his first choice, even if the Bulls man has shown him­self to be more than fal­li­ble this sea­son, es­pe­cially with his goal-kick­ing, but there is a grey area as to who the back-up to Pol­lard is go­ing to be.

There is El­ton Jan­tjies, some­times un­justly vil­i­fied for the glitches he has shown on the in­ter­na­tional stage; the emerg­ing con­tender Damian Willemse; out­sider Robert du Preez, who is per­haps jus­ti­fied in feel­ing that he has not yet been given a fair shake in the green and gold; and Pa­trick Lam­bie, who Eras­mus men­tioned in his early days as coach but has not had an air­ing this year be­cause of in­jury.

This time last year, the name of Cur­win Bosch would have been in the mix but Eras­mus’ hands are tied re­gard­ing Bosch be­cause in Su­per Rugby he played ev­ery game at full­back for the Sharks.

As things stand right now, the 20-year-old Willemse ap­pears to have jumped the queue af­ter im­press­ing for the Storm­ers at fly­half with his phys­i­cal­ity on de­fence and skill on at­tack. He was a bea­con in the morass of dis­ap­point­ment that was the Storm­ers’ Su­per Rugby sea­son.

Af­ter the third Test de­feat to Eng­land, a match in which Jan­tjies had an un­for­tu­nate per­for­mance, the Bok coach men­tioned in the post-match press con­fer­ence that Willemse had al­ways been in his plans, and that he had sec­onded him to the SA Un­der-20 team to get fur­ther ex­pe­ri­ence in the po­si­tion, only for him to get in­jured in the Un­der-20 World Cham­pi­onship and thus miss the rest of Su­per Rugby.

He nev­er­the­less came straight into the equa­tion for the Rugby Cham­pi­onship when he was named on the bench, os­ten­si­bly as full­back cover for Wil­lie le Roux, but with the lat­ter de­liv­er­ing a com­mand­ing per­for­mance against the Pu­mas, Eras­mus was com­pelled to bring Willemse on at fly­half, with off-colour start­ing No 10 Pol­lard moved to No 12, and An­dré Ester­huizen subbed.

“We know how tal­ented Damian is and we will have to see how quickly he gets it right at this level,” Eras­mus said.

“There hasn’t been a World Cup won with a fly­half un­der the age of 24. That’s your quar­ter­back and it’s the po­si­tion where you must be in con­trol.

“But maybe Damian is in the mould of Frans Steyn when he was 19, who can just step up and do it straight away. Things change quickly in rugby in terms of in­juries. You have to make al­ter­na­tive plans, and he might sur­prise you so that you don’t have to look at the other guys,” Eras­mus said in re­veal­ing his hand.

Jan­tjies, though, can still make a case for him­self if he is given de­cent op­por­tu­nity, and takes it. For the last two years he was the scape­goat for the poor Bok per­for­mances and a com­par­i­son was made with how good he was for the Lions.

Per­haps the re­al­ity is that at the Lions he had clear di­rec­tion as to how to dic­tate play but was at a loss in this re­gard at the Boks.

And how would Jan­tjies have fared had he played in the first and sec­ond Tests against Eng­land and not the ex­per­i­men­tal third?

The re­al­ity is that in the 13 months to the first World Cup match in Ja­pan, in­juries will strike. They are as cer­tain as death and taxes. We know that Pol­lard can be in­jury prone, just as all the lead­ing fly­half can­di­dates will know that there is ev­ery­thing to play for.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.