South Africa is a proud rugby nation, one that has often been a breeding ground for top rugby players. Known for big, powerful forwards and lightning quick backs, they have always been an entertaining side to watch.

But there have been significant changes in the rugby landscape. Look at the improvement in Northern Hemisphere rugby for example. Millions of euros and pounds have been pumped into European leagues to great effect. Meanwhile, South Africa has done little to improve their stagnation.

This stalling has forced some of South Africa’s top talents to give up on international careers in order to find improvement. Look at Pat Lambie, Willie Le Roux, Ruan Ackermann, and Faf de Klerk.

Sale Shark's Faf de Klerk
Sale Shark’s Faf de Klerk.
Photo: Jack86mkII via Wikimedia Commons.

While this topic is complex and controversial, I would like to focus on the last of those names. Faf de Klerk could be incredibly valuable to the Boks, especially considering their recent struggles at scrum-half.

Current scrum-half options

Worcester’s Francois Hougaard is an excellent scrum-half in terms of athleticism. However, his skill and decision-making do not match his strength and speed. The Bulls’ Rudy Paige is a threat when he finds a form, but his form can also be inconsistent and erratic.

This leaves the Springboks with the Lions’ Ross Cronje, who has can be both sensational and downright unpredictable. His performance in the 25-24 defeat to the All Blacks was immense, but his game management in the 38-0 humiliation in Ireland proved otherwise.

Tactically, he is good at delivering quick ball, but his decision making in tight games has seemed directionless. In Ireland, he elected to box-kick every time he had quick-ball. We can’t be sure if he was asked to do this, however, this caused the Springboks to lose possession frequently and gain little forward momentum.

Faf de Klerk

So, does de Klerk deserve to play for the Springboks? The answer is possibly yes. Can he play for the Springboks? Well, that is another question and the answer is no. He does not have 30 caps for South Africa, and he plays in a European country.

This aside, his form this year for the Sale Sharks has been nothing short of imperious. So far he has played 12 matches, scoring 3 tries, with 5 penalties and 5 conversions. While he might not have the scoring rate of a wing, he has been the catalyst for a lot of Sale’s best moves.

With a potent backline including the likes of AJ MacGinty, James O’Connor, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Marland Yarde, Byron McGuigon, and Denny Solomona, he has been another star in the Sale system. Often the one to ignite the others.

Sale Sharks's Denny Solomona
Sale Sharks’s Denny Solomona.
Photo: Johnmarfleet via Wikimedia Commons.

When asked about their South African scrum half, Sale’s Director of Rugby Steve Diamond had nothing but superlatives for the Bok.

He’s the best 9 in the competition,” said Diamond. “He’s electric. He understands the game, he has a good skill-set and he is the beating heart of the team.

So why doesn’t he start as a Springbok? Because he never had the opportunity to be his best in South Africa.

Nowadays, a huge number of the best in South Africa leave the country, even the coaches.

Hopefully, de Klerk will be given further opportunity to play for South Africa; I believe it is necessary for both him and for South Africa.

Author: Andrew Weaver

My name is Andrew, I live in New York City, USA, and I play second and back row for Play Rugby USA. When I am not playing rugby, I’m drawing, or enjoying a good book. Thankfully, I was able to navigate through the other American sports and land on rugby.

5 COMMENTS

    • As a fellow fan of South African rugby, it is mind-boggling that so much talent is allowed to leave the Southern Hemisphere. I did not add this, but his teammate, Rohan Janse van Rensburg is also a victim of the South African provincial system.

  1. Great player. Really like watching him. But he is in the first year of a 3 year contract at Sale, so I don’t think he’s going to be playing for the springboks any time soon unfortunately. Massive shame.

  2. While you raise an interesting point, the issue is clearly at a much higher level. In the same way that the world’s best footballers all gravitate to the highest rewarding leagues, so will be the case for rugby. The Southern Hemisphere unions have done a pretty diabolical job of taking what was a pretty cool product 15-years ago (Super Rugby), and turning into a dull monotonous competition. As such they pulled the rug from right under their own feet. This is all self inflicted. You can not blame the players for wanting to maximise their income, and also challenge themselves in a more stimulating competition. Is this problem solvable, or has the horse already bolted? Who knows. But the southern unions need to do less moaning, and begging to the IRB to solve it for them, and instead leverage their amazing assets (the players, the stadiums, the fans, the climate, etc) and build a product that can be a beacon to the rest of World Rugby!

  3. Look at the all blacks. New Zealand’s best franchise. The whole nation behind and proud of them, stable government, and a country in good health. Without this they would not be what they are. Pay peanuts for monkeys. It’s simple.

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