Cape Town – As far as possible, try to keep the Springbok scrumhalf-flyhalf alliance settled in the run-up to the 2019 World Cup.
That is the plea of Vlok Cilliers, one of the country’s top kicking experts, who has also opened up about likely conditions for that area of the game when the major event is staged in Japan from late September.
The former Springbok and SA Sevens player, who has performed consultancy work for Frans Ludeke’s Kubota Spears and Jake White’s Toyota Verblitz in the Japanese Top League, believes familiarity and consistency in selection is a major influence on how well the Nos 9 and 10 dovetail.
South Africa have 10 more Test matches until RWC, and Cilliers would ideally like to see national coach Rassie Erasmus begin to settle with some purpose now on his men for those vital tactical berths.
The incumbents are Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf and Handre Pollard as his partner in the wider slot, although Erasmus has this season also fielded De Klerk and Elton Jantjies together, and Ivan van Zyl with Jantjies, while one or two other scrumhalf substitutes have been selected for match days.
Although he has been critical of All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett’s placekicking, Cilliers greatly admires his general play and says that a major part of the world champions’ success in recent times has been down to their “nine and ten staying the same”.
By that, he means that the 67-cap Barrett and 77-cap Aaron Smith – their Test careers span the same period so far, 2012-18 – have played an enormous amount of times together for the national cause.
“A lot of the best sides at different times in the modern era have thrived in no small way because they’ve had settled nine-and-ten combinations,” Cilliers told Sport24.
“Think when England were successful, winning the World Cup for the first time in 2003: Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Dawson.
“Then the decent Irish side of the present … (Johnny) Sexton and (Conor) Murray are the regular pair.
“There have also been periods when the same two have played for their country and franchise/club: the was the All Black and Crusaders era of (Andrew) Mehrtens and (Justin) Marshall, and our own Morne Steyn and Fourie du Preez – Boks and Bulls.
“Fourie and Morne just knew and understood each other so well … they could look at each other and know immediately how to respond to a situation, to read the other guy’s mind. They knew when to take charge as individuals, within the partnership.
“Look, lots of other elements make a successful team, but so often the best sides, whether Tests or other levels, have regular nine and ten pairings.”
Cilliers said that whoever Erasmus considers to be his best scrumhalf/flyhalf pairing at present, should ideally remain that way as the World Cup draws nearer.
He also warned, based on his knowledge through coaching in Japan, of potentially difficult conditions for kickers at RWC 2019.
“That country has a lot of wind, more than you might even imagine. It is often gusting and it swirls within the stadiums. Kickers will want to get familiar with the conditions as much as possible
“The weather can generally be quite changeable, fast … it’s a country of islands. The games will be around 5pm or 7pm; when the sun goes down, things get slippery.
“But wind will be a big factor next year.”
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