De Klerk’s injury is another name on a long list of integral players that have gone missing for the Springboks come tour time this year. However, where the Boks struggled for depth at times in other positions, there is a reassuring insurance policy covering the scrumhalf position.
It comes in the form of Cobus Reinach and Herschel Jantjies, and for the first time in a while the two will be given a great opportunity to rotate and revel in an extended run at Test level.
Earlier in the year I wrote that Reinach’s straight swap to start in place of Faf De Klerk was no indictment on the qualities of Herschel Jantjies, but rather a recognition of the unique role that each could play in the context of a full 80 minutes, given their different individual strengths at scrumhalf.
Nothing should change come the end-of-year tour, and with Reinach consistently ripping it up for Montpellier, he is the obvious candidate to start for the Springboks in what will be typically Northern Hemisphere conditions.
However, Faf’s absence must be treated as an opportunity to provide both players with similar game time, and Jantjies needs to be utilised earlier in the second half. Jantjies is an incredibly dynamic, elusive and energetic rugby player, and the tempo at which he plays makes for a tough opponent as the game goes on.
He has been great from a playing perspective when given the chance for the Springboks this year, but an area that remains questionable is his decision making in decisive moments of matches. For example, the quick tap in the final penalty of the British & Irish Lions tour…
There needs to be a calm in Jantjies’ decision making to complement the energy and speed with which he dictates a game. But that calm only comes with consistent exposure to these high-pressure moments, and the quality of the opposition on the end-of-year tour presents the perfect environment for Jantjies to grow his game management.
The Springboks start their November tour against Wales, before taking on Scotland and then concluding the year against England. One would assume, given the structures that have been in place since the 2019 World Cup, that Reinach will come in straight for De Klerk to start against Wales and England. But hopefully there is trust given to Jantjies to take things away against Scotland.
The reality is, both players have performed at the highest level for the Springboks before, and if one is having an off day, the other should be able to step up and fill in. Reinach to start for the majority of the tour would make sense given his Northern Hemisphere experience and physical presence, but there needs to be room for Jantjies to start at least one of the matches and play out longer periods in the others.
It is a privileged position to be in to have the sort of depth that the Springboks do at scrumhalf, but that depth needs to be fully trusted and explored in moments like this end of year tour, where the first choice is unavailable.
Young talent Jaden Hendrikse suffered a horrible injury during the Rugby Championship, and Sharks teammates Sanele Nohamba or Grant Williams will likely be brought along as the third choice and blooded in their first end-of-year tour. Nohamba and Williams are both highly rated, but still just 22 and 25 respectively. Actual game time for them should not be a concern if Reinach and Jantjies are fit and performing, as the experience of just touring with the Springboks is invaluable.
The All Blacks have long had a system in place whereby players they believe will come through at Test level are brought on an end-of-year tour not to play, but mainly to absorb. Jordie Barrett and Ardie Savea are two of the most notable products of that system, and in 2021 – years after their inaugural tours – they are two of the most influential players in Ian Foster’s side.
Faf de Klerk’s injury may be a blessing in disguise for him and the Springbok team. De Klerk’s body takes a battering week in, week out be it for Sale Sharks or the Springboks, while Reinach and Jantjies have the quality to start every week for most other teams, but instead have to sit on that talent and hunger for the sake of a system that has been proving successful for the Springboks so far.
ASLO ON KEO: