Springboks: Erasmus right to keep faith with De Klerk and Le Roux

The Springboks may have won their semifinal against Wales, but that didn’t prevent fans from taking to social media to roast Willie Le Roux and Faf de Klerk.

Two experienced Springboks who should be central to Rassie Erasmus’s plans to lift the trophy have seemingly been picked out for their errors in the tournament to date.

The Boks kick

The official stats tell us the de Klerk has kicked the ball 58 times in the four matches he has played at the Rugby World Cup, but that doesn’t give you the full picture.

The impeccable structure of top international rugby defences means that a smart kicking game is often the best way to get into points-scoring range. While there will always be some fans who groan every time the ball is kicked, just ask Naas Botha, most would be happy if the kick’s were working out for the Springboks.

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De Klerk has executed some very good kicks, but he has put the ball to boot so much that it is almost inevitable that a fair number of them would backfire.

In defence of the Boks blonde halfback, his kicking is clearly part of a plan handed down to him by the coaching staff, but he would do well to lean on his own experience rather than a rigid adherence to the plan.

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South Africa’s scrum-half Faf de Klerk takes part in a training session at Fuchu Asahi Football Park in Tokyo on October 23, 2019, ahead of their Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final against Wales. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

The Springboks two other scrum-halves both ostensibly offer more options on the attack. Still, Herschel Jantjies has struggled to provide quality service to his flyhalf, and Cobus Reinach has played just one match at the Rugby World Cup, although he did score a hat-trick against Canada. 

Replacing the experienced De Klerk, who plays alongside and against England stars week-in and week-out with his club Sale, would be a bigger gamble than his box-kick up-and-unders.

De Klerk also shows a great deal of heart in harassing the opposition around the fringes when on defence. He has made more than double the number of tackles that his opposite number on Saturday Ben Youngs. Youngs is more likely to snipe around the fringes but for De Klerk that would be ill-advised given he has already surrendered nine turnovers and will have to contend with a brace of English jackals in Sam Underhill and Tom Curry sniffing around. 

At this stage of the tournament, given all that has gone before De Klerk remains the safe option at 9.

Willie’s hands

Fullback Le Roux has cut something of a bumbling figure amongst an otherwise sharp Springbok backline. He has not helped himself by letting relatively straightforward balls slip through his grasp often in promising attacking situations.

Le Roux will win his 61st Test cap against England though and none of the men who could replace him have anywhere near that level of experience in his position.

Unless there is something physically wrong with Le Roux that is causing him to drop so many balls, particularly in attacking situations, Erasmus is dead-right to back him.

We might look back and ask why the Springboks have neglected their options in the position but the World Cup final is not the time or place for experiments.

If it goes pear-shaped for the Springboks

The Springboks have just two backs on their bench but they offer cover for the troublesome 9 and 15 positions. Jantjies retains his place on the bench as cover for De Klerk while Frans Steyn can play at flyhalf, centre and fullback. Steyn was touted as an option at fullback by former Bok coach Nick Mallet during the group stages and replaced Le Roux in the semifinal. Steyn is likely to be brought on if things are tight late on as he can slam a drop-goal over from inside his own half, but Erasmus might have to bring him into the action earlier if Le Roux fails to rise to the occasion.

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