For their opening Test against the All Blacks, the Springboks need the experienced halfback pairing of Faf De Klerk and Handre Pollard to fire, and the Bok coaches have got it spot on by bringing De Klerk back into the starting lineup, despite his indifferent form over the Welsh series, writes Mark Keohane.
Certain players within your system you trust, and for the Springboks Faf De Klerk is one of those. De Klerk’s kicking game and disruptive style of play is an important element in allowing the Springbok gameplan to thrive, and it is all the more important against a side like the All Blacks, who struggle when against sides and players who are able to disrupt their continuity.
Jaden Hendrikse had a fantastic few games against Wales, and his passing game along with the speed at which he plays will be a welcomed factor from the bench. But in a game as big as the All Blacks, it would be silly to simply ignore the years of experience between De Klerk and Pollard, based on an indifferent start to the season.
Yes, De Klerk was neither here nor there and yes, Pollard was far from his best against Wales, but does that mean they should be discarded so quickly when we have seen what they are capable of in the biggest moment? According to the rugby public, yes. For me, it’s a hard no, and I’m relieved to see that the Springbok coaches have backed the horses who have come through for them time and time again for this opening Test.
One hopes that the Welsh series offered a chance for the likes of Pollard and De Klerk to shake off the cobwebs and come fresh into what will be a non-stop international season from Saturday’s Test to the end of year tour where the Boks will face France, Ireland and England.
I believe the two will come good against New Zealand, and they will do so emphatically. What Faf’s lack of form allowed for against Wales was for Hendrikse to be given an opportunity, and his success has just strengthened South Africa’s stocks at scrumhalf. Building to the World Cup it does not have to, and must not be, a case of De Klerk or Hendrikse, it very much should be a case of both. We have seen the success of similar stories in our front row!
When it comes to Saturday, Handre Pollard needs to be kicking at 80%. No team cannot afford penalty and conversion misses against the All Blacks.
Nienaber and Erasmus have picked the right generals for Saturday, but the onus is on De Klerk and Pollard to capitalise on forward dominance and marshall the match in a manner that truly represents their class as players.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) August 2, 2022
In terms of the decision to stick with Jasper Wiese at number 8, it is one that will ring unpopular with much of the South African public, but one that despite my own fondness for Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw, I can understand tactically. Roos and Louw will feature against Australia, and it is very likely a case of the Springbok coaches believing this is the environment in which their skillsets will be best put to use in their debut seasons of Test rugby. Both Louw and Roos should have long Bok careers ahead of them, and their absence from the squad for the first Test against the All Blacks should be no cause for concern. There is still a whole Rugby Championship and end of year tour to be played.
Damian Willemse finally asserted himself at Test level in the Boks home series victory against Wales, and I’m happy to see him backed again at fullback, where he thrived over the three Tests. Willemse’s role is becoming more and more integral to the Boks’ selections and tactical approach, as he offers a great option at inside centre later on in the match, and acts as flyhalf cover.
Willemse’s shift into the starting XV has also very naturally allowed for Willie Le Roux’s transition to the bench, where we are seeing a much more comfortable and natural role for Le Roux. The fullback’s experience has proven handy in the final thirty minutes, and where last year it felt like the Boks were losing something by starting him and pulling him off at half time, they’ve gained so much by having him as a second-half safety option from the bench. Le Roux, if need be, can also come in at flyhalf.
The Boks are well covered by their bench for Saturday, and the versatility of the starting players. As always, their pack is interchangeable and regardless of who starts they boast the best in the world from 1-5. Malcolm Marx starts what will be his 50th Test and we can expect a huge shift from the man who marked his arrival on the Test scene with a performance against the All Blacks in 2017 that the New Zealand Herald gave a 10/10.
The Boks are positioned perfectly to welcome the All Blacks to South Africa by beating them. The coaches have been clever in their selections, and avoided public sensationalism to field close to their best possible side. Not just in terms of who starts where, but how the combinations unfold throughout the game between starters and substitutes.
The Springbok pack needs to dominate the All Black forwards in much the same way that a Leinster-dominated Irish pack did over the course of their 2-1 series victory in New Zealand. Based on the selections made for Saturday, they should. Off the back of that, De Klerk and Pollard can do some serious damage with a backline that, bar two players, remains the same as the one that won the World Cup in 2019 and inspired a series win against the British & Irish Lions.