Super Rugby

Herschel v TJ: Restless No 9s lock horns at Newlands

Herschel Jantjies (Gallo)
Herschel Jantjies (Gallo)

Cape Town – Herschel Jantjies against TJ Perenara … there’s little not to like for scrumhalf aficionados at Newlands on Saturday.

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Just for one thing, it will feature two men itching to bin their inevitable, respective reputations as current “supersubs” for their juggernaut international sides, the Springbok and All Blacks.

While the Stormers team had not yet been named at the time of writing, it seemed a betting certainty that Jantjies – now very much the premier choice in the berth for the franchise – would go head to head with the Hurricanes’ already confirmed No 9 Perenara.

The latter has been elevated to the leadership of the visitors (he is officially one of those in-vogue “co-captains” of the franchise this season) for the tantalising Super Rugby opener.

It is due to kick off at 15:05 under merciless, mid-summer sunshine but with a temperature-moderating southeaster swirling around the old ground, possibly making things challenging for tactical kicking by the respective “nines” and others on the park.

It’s tempting to cheekily ask “but hasn’t Perenara effectively been the Hurricanes’ skipper for years?” considering his classic penchant in his position for having an ongoing, very animated rapport with referees.

Well, the ultra-competitive Thomas Tekanapu Rawakata Perenara now has the liberty to engage with the main on-field official with elevated empowerment: so be sure he will be in the ear of Jaco Peyper abundantly on Saturday, even if the South African whistle-man is pretty wise to such pressuring tactics.

That assertiveness clearly comes quite naturally to Perenara, but it must also be at least partly a product of his mounting experience in high-level rugby.

Having turned 28 a few days ago, the loyal Wellingtonian has been on the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby books since the 2012 season, and also racked up a total of 64 New Zealand caps over a six-year period to this point.

Closer perusal of his Test honours, however, reveals that Perenara has only started 16 – so exactly a quarter – of his internationals, his path to the coveted No 9 All Black jersey so customarily blocked by the decorated Aaron Smith and leaving him primarily as the impact factor from the bench.

Highlanders stalwart Smith remains committed to New Zealand rugby until next year, but he is also three years older than Perenara at 31 and that, frankly, is one viable reason to suspect that the gap between the pair on the Test pecking order is only going to keep closing.

Perenara has much in common, then, with his expected direct rival at Newlands, the considerably less streetwise but highly exciting Jantjies, 23.

The ultra-slippery Stormers scrumhalf has reached 10 international caps since his maiden exposure last year, but only two of his have been starts, so he stands at a lesser 20 percent in terms of run-on XV experience for the Boks, albeit already a delighted holder of a World Cup-winning medal.

Just how close is he to displacing current Bok first-choice Faf de Klerk?

Almost inarguably, you would think, further away right now than Perenara may be from eclipsing Smith … and the Stellenbosch-born player isn’t helped by not getting opportunities in Super Rugby to go into direct combat with distant, Sale-based De Klerk.

The former Lions star has been a favourite during the Rassie Erasmus Bok head-coaching regime, not least for the way he is deeply entrusted with box-kicking responsibilities, and that is unlikely to change too radically yet while Jacques Nienaber, an unashamed Erasmus disciple, cuts his teeth in the mastermind berth this season.

Almost to Jantjies’s “detriment”, his penchant for entering the fray during the second half and producing flair-laden, influential little cameos makes him a popular choice as a supersub.

But he will have higher aspirations than that, and the way seems clear for him to develop into much more of a rounded “general” in 2020 where, fitness permitting, he can expect a fairly clear run as frontline No 9 for the Stormers as the berth there is not marked by any special, proven depth.

Disrupting the renowned chutzpah of Perenara through his own, perhaps slightly more mercurial-driven exploits on Saturday will go a long way toward Jantjies confirming himself as a genuine candidate for top-dog status at Springbok scrumhalf …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing ...

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