While social media has appeared cynical of the Springboks’ scrum-half selection for Saturday’s series decider against the British & Irish Lions, both Cobus Reinach and Herschel Jantjies will have an equal role to play in managing an 80-minute battle, writes Oliver Keohane.
There are no hidden agendas around Herschel Jantjies remaining on the bench, while Cobus Reinach replaces Faf De Klerk as the starting Springbok scrumhalf. The selection speaks to the strengths of both players in what they offer to the full 80 minutes, and reinforces the systems and the style that Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus have been developing since before the World Cup in 2019.
Herschel Jantjies will start many tests for the Springboks, but in the context of the scrumhalves available, the style of rugby the Springboks play, and the importance that has been placed on the Springbok bench in the Erasmus/Nienaber era, Jantjies’ biggest value is his super-sub quality.
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The selection of Reinach to start is not a new idea, nor a reaction to this specific series. If we rewind to 2019, the starting role was often seen to be between De Klerk and Reinach, and the Springboks were just fortunate that Faf was available to start all the big games.
The Bok coaches know that they have a special talent in Jantjies, and that was apparent right from his debut. He is an electric player and a defensive nightmare, and these qualities become especially apparent when he is brought on against tired defences in the final 20. He also boasts a speed that not many other scrumhalves do, and it has allowed him to be shifted to the wing on occasion as injury cover during matches.
Jantjies closed out the game superbly last weekend, and was at the helm of a ferocious final quarter of play from the Springboks that saw them emerge victorious by an 18 point differential (27-9). The trust is in him that he will be able to replicate that this coming weekend.
Equally, there is a trust in Reinach that his superb European form and robust style of play will bolster the Springboks in the initial stages of the match. Reinach is experienced in Northern Hemisphere-style rugby, and strong in contact around close quarter, ruck situations.
Reinach is also the halfback complement to Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard for French club Montepellier, who were crowned European Challenge Cup champions earlier this year. There is a lot to be said of experienced combinations, and if these two are able to dictate proceedings in the manner that they did throughout their domestic season, it lays a platform for Jantjies to inject energy into a game that will be slower by 60 minutes than it would be at 20.
The difference between the Springboks over the last few years, and the teams that struggled post-2011, is that there is a clear plan around players and their roles within the squad for the greater benefit of the team. There are many examples, but the selection of Reinach to start and Jantjies to remain among the substitutions speaks to a sense of clam and clarity from the Springbok management, and shows that there is a certain way in which they want to approach the contest come Saturday.
Even with their first choice injured, the Springboks are spoilt for choice at scrumhalf, and selections are not a case of either/or, but rather which one/when.
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