On a disappointing night in Cork, after a dire display from South Africa’s “A” side, there was one shining light in Sharks scrumhalf Grant Williams, writes Mark Keohane.
SA “A” conceded four tries in the first half to lose 28-14 to Munster. It’s 80 minutes every South African supporter will really feel they can never get back, but if there was one positive to take from a game otherwise not worth even dissecting, it was that Grant Williams has shown again that he needs to be backed in Springbok colours.
When the Boks finally backed Jaden Hendrikse to start, there was a notable difference in their attacking energy, with the half-a-second extra time on the ball that Hendrikse’s service allowed. Hendrikse was a huge improvement on the notoriously slow passing of Faf de Klerk, but the scrumhalf with the quickest service in South African rugby at the moment is Grant Williams.
Faf de Klerk was perfectly suited to the 2019 Springbok team, whose pack dominated every set piece and allowed him to drop bomb after bomb on the opposition back three. That has not quite been the case over the last year, and the Bok set piece – especially the lineout and the maul – has been a shadow of its previous presence. As has De Klerk, whose sluggish style of play has proven costly and predictable.
Entrusting Damian Willemse at 10 is making a statement of intent and accepting that the Springboks will be playing a different style of rugby. Imagine how Willemse would thrive off the sort of delivery that Williams could give him from the base of the ruck.
What has become very apparent is that after storming onto the scene prior to the 2019 World Cup and making a few good cameo appearances here and there, Herschel Jantjies just is not up to scratch anymore. He hasn’t been for the Stormers and he most certainly was not for the Springboks last year or SA “A” last night. Jantjies’ kicking game has proven more an asset to the opposition than an attacking weapon for his own team, and his decision-making remains erratic.
The Boks have picked Faf de Klerk to start against France this weekend, and what we can expect – once again – is a fairly one-dimensional approach, that is no longer suited to this current Springbok team. There seems to be a bizarre lack of foresight in the decision-making of the Springbok management, and where steps were taken in the right direction by backing Willemse and Hendrikse as a combination, there is an immediate regression to conservative old ways as soon as pressure put on them by a loss.
Grant Williams needs to be in that Springbok side. He possesses such a dynamic, fast style of play at scrumhalf, and is equally comfortable on the wing – a necessary consideration for a Bok team that needs a back-up kicker on the bench more so than an extra outside back (given Willemse can play fullback too).
The Springboks’ lack of domination at set-piece is a real concern, but what is more concerning is the inability to situationally adapt. The Bok coaches continue to pick a team that plays a direct, confrontational and conservative style of rugby, but then are found scrambling when that approach does not work and these players are expected to try and play expansively and score tries come the second half.
Willemse is not a flyhalf who sits deep in the pocket and slowly moves a team forward by potting long-range territorial punts, so he needs a scrumhalf intent on playing to his fluid, elusive style. Hendrikse has begun to offer him that, but Grant Williams is the way forward if the Springboks are serious about embracing a stylistic change to their backline’s attack.
Watch: Zels and my predictions for Saturday’s clash
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) November 10, 2022