Johannesburg - When the Springboks’ upset of the All Blacks in Wellington last weekend is spoken of in mythical tones a decade from now and has grown bigger than just a two-point win, it will also be claimed that it was a 23-man effort.
Reserve scrum half Ross Cronjé will be first to disagree with that, citing the fact that, when referee Nigel Owens blew the final whistle, he was the poor blighter still resplendent in his yellow benchwarmer’s bib.
The Lions man might even be moved to show footage of the pandemonium that followed the end of the game, where he is the only one wearing a sheepish smile at having played no part in the epic, while Handré Pollard stopped short of doing cartwheels and Pieter-Steph du Toit went all the way with his tears of joy.
Cronjé will then console himself at not being trusted by coach Rassie Erasmus to play an impactful role off the bench for the Boks in that game with the fact that fellow halfback Embrose Papier had suffered the same fate a week before in the defeat to Australia.
Few positions have become as pointless in South African rugby as being Springbok incumbent Faf de Klerk’s second in command at scrumhalf, as Cronjé and Papier will surely tell you. Papier might have reason to feel more aggrieved, given that De Klerk was having one of his frustrating meltdowns when the Boks lost to the Wallabies, instead of the inspired role he played against the All Blacks.
While the pair’s backsides were gathering splinters on the benches of Australasia, Ivan van Zyl, Louis Schreuder and Cameron Wright were peddling their wares in the Currie Cup as part of an audition currently more widespread than Idols SA.
The big problem is that it seems as though we’re no closer to knowing the identity of the country’s number two scrumhalf, let alone the third who will form part of the extended squad to go to the World Cup next year – and heaven forbid if De Klerk gets injured.
So wide open is the race that even forgotten figures like Cobus Reinach, now playing for English premiership side Northampton, have also been quoted making the right noises about “winning the World Cup for Rassie”.
Before sifting through the credentials of the candidates, maybe we should go back to why South African rugby finds itself in this position in the first place.
Having Fourie du Preez, who is a once-in-a-generation halfback, fall into our laps not only spoilt us, it also made us complacent.
Given how long Du Preez played for, including the 2013 return from international retirement, we somehow thought he would last forever. Worse, we thought his influence would forever reverberate in South African rugby.
Because the Boks barely needed a flyhalf when Du Preez was playing, we all expected subsequent halfbacks to play exactly like him, which meant square pegs like Francois Hougaard being crammed into round holes marked FdP and failing miserably.
It’s the South African way of doing things – once a player succeeds in playing a certain way, all the players who succeed him have to play the same way (think of the Bulls trying to force Jan Serfontein to play like Wynand Olivier).
Looking at the candidates, Papier – who may well have the potential to be the player of his generation – looks like the most talented of them, but the issue is that, at 21, the former SA Under-20 player has played too little first-class rugby so it’s almost understandable that Erasmus doesn’t yet trust him.
Cronjé did well in an underperforming Bok side last year, but, at 29, a laboured pass to the right and legs slower than death are weaknesses that are highly unlikely to improve. Wright boasts the mongrel that is requisite in all scrumhalves, but there is little else that is obvious about his attributes from a playing perspective.
Schreuder, who was ironically anointed by Du Preez as his successor when first roped into the Springbok fold, looks to have the analytical mind for it, but he’s another one whose body lags behind his wits.
The time has come to realise that Du Preez is not making another comeback, so we need to work with the scrumhalves we do have – in descending order based on their strengths and weaknesses.
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