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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Springboks must get set for a ‘Stephen Donald’ flyhalf moment at France 2023

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Cape Town – The Springboks are down to their fifth-choice flyhalf in Frans Steyn for Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider against Argentina, but the South Africans must avoid a similar scenario playing out at next year’s Rugby Cup.

All of Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Johan Goosen and Damian Willemse are unavailable for the Kings Park clash this weekend due to injuries and off-field reasons.

But, as unlikely as this flyhalf situation seems, it’s not the first time it has happened, and it won’t be the last. The most famous came in the 2011 Rugby Cup, when the All Blacks had to call on Stephen Donald from a fishing trip to help out, and he ended up kicking the winning penalty in the 8-7 final win over France.

Before him, Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden went down, which saw the Chiefs veteran answer his country’s call in a memorable Eden Park finish.

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The major problem for Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, though, is that he hasn’t really looked outside the current squad for any flyhalf reserves as yet – and it doesn’t sound like he will.

“If you go that route, you will probably go with five specialist flyhalves – and you will never use five specialist flyhalves. If you go to a Cup, you can probably take two specialist flyhalves, and then your next back-ups – within the squad – will be guys that cover there for you. I think all teams are made up like that …” Nienaber said at his team announcement press conference in Durban this week.

“If we had gone with five specialist flyhalves, even to the alignment camp … If you think now that the time and effort we put into a player, let’s say you’ve got eight hours and eight flyhalves there, you can only put in one hour per flyhalf.

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“Whereas if you have two or three there, you can put almost three hours in per flyhalf. It dilutes your contact time with the specialist position. There is so much detail that goes in. You can, but I think it dilutes it … you are probably not going to use them.”

As we’ve seen, though, the Boks might just actually have to use those new faces at pivot at France 2023, which is why it is vital that they are given exposure to the national team set-up.

But Nienaber’s analogy of the five specialist flyhalves being a waste rings hollow when you consider that he has had five specialist scrumhalves involved in the squad this year: Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach and Grant Williams.

And that is quite correct, as scrumhalf is a highly specialised position, so why is flyhalf not afforded the same attention?

The Springboks is the highest level in SA rugby, so it should have the best possible players in each position. As much as Willemse and Steyn provide utility value in a squad environment, they should have one position as their main area of responsibility, and be a back-up in others.

Steyn is probably most suited at inside centre, and Willemse at fullback. But the latter’s performances in the No 10 jersey warrants serious consideration to make him a specialist pivot.

But what happens in an All Black situation at next year’s Cup? Another factor to remember is that the likes of Manie Libbok, Jordan Hendrikse and Chris Smith are all uncapped, while Donald played 22

Tests in the three years before his Cup cameo.


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