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Injury to tactical chief De Klerk is a huge blow for the Springboks

The South Africans have also lost the superb Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Faf de Klerk with Lukhanyo Am after the Boks' World Cup win.
Faf de Klerk with Lukhanyo Am after the Boks' World Cup win.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IF THERE WAS one player that Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber wouldn’t have wanted to lose more than any other, it was Faf de Klerk.

He has been the chief of their side in recent years in more ways than one. The scrum-half is a tactical leader for the Springboks and though they kicked off out-half Handré Pollard more often in last weekend’s second Test against the Lions, de Klerk is always the key influence in that crucial part of the game.

De Klerk’s passing has occasionally been inaccurate in this series but he is capable of breaking out of the contestable kick tactics and delivering high-quality attacking moments too. He has sharp acceleration and last weekend’s grubber for Lukhanyo Am’s try showed his vision and skill level under pressure.

Add to that the fact that he is the game’s toughest 5ft 7ins enforcer. De Klerk is relentlessly edgy and feisty, hitting much harder than his weight class would suggest is coming. The Sale man is an excellent, inventive, and daring defender.

All of these reasons mean the injury he suffered last weekend while box kicking – and then presumably worsened when box kicking again just moments later – is a huge blow to the Springboks ahead of the deciding third Test against the Lions on Saturday.

Montpellier’s Cobus Reinach comes into the team in the number nine shirt, leapfrogging Herschel Jantjies, who has made appearances off the bench in the first two Tests.

The Springboks clearly believe that Reinach’s skillset is more similar to de Klerk’s, while he is also sightly more experienced than Jantjies, albeit Reinach only has 15 caps at the age of 31.

south-africa-v-georgia-summer-international-loftus-versfeld-stadium Reinach gets the biggest start of his career on Saturday. Source: PA

Reinach’s kicking is considered stronger than Jantjies’ and though he is right-footed – rather than left-footed like de Klerk – the Boks hope he can provide composure and accuracy in that area.

Reinach also has a good understanding of out-half Handré Pollard’s game, having spent the last season with him in Montpellier, even though Pollard was injured for most of the campaign. Reinach is also a major running threat and his support play is superb – something the Lions will need to be aware of.

“Cobus is an experienced player with a calm head who can handle pressure, and we believe he will be able to dictate play well alongside Handré,” said Springboks head coach Nienaber yesterday, while adding that Jantjies offers “spark” off the bench.

The Lions are expecting de Klerk’s absence to result in the Boks kicking off Pollard more often.

“It possibly changes the way we are going to look at things, they might kick more off 10 like they did at the weekend,” said Lions boss Warren Gatland yesterday.

“Pollard kicked a lot more in the second Test so they may revert to that. With Faf’s left -foot game and the way he defends, everything is on the edge with him in the way he plays and he is pretty feisty.”

Having kicked in play only four times in the first Test, Pollard kicked 11 times last weekend in the second Test.

Meanwhile, the Boks will also have to cope without Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was named World Rugby player of the year after their World Cup success in 2019.

pieter-steph-du-toit-after-the-game Du Toit is another massive loss. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

Du Toit was forced off with a shoulder injury just 21 minutes into the second Test, having landed awkwardly in a tackle from Lions wing Duhan van der Merwe.

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A wonderfully balanced player, du Toit has been a brilliant lock/blindside hybrid for the Springboks in recent years. His physicality and relentless work-rate are matched by excellent lineout, ruck, and handling skills, while he is as quick and agile as many backs.

The Springboks have reacted to this second blow by bringing Lood de Jager into their second row and shifting Franco Mostert to the blindside – as was the case when de Jager came off the bench to make a major impact in the second half last weekend.

It leaves the Boks with a nice balance in their starting pack, the model of three locks maintained, but naturally reduces the strength of their bench as they shift from a 6/2 split to a 5/3 split, with two back row replacements in Marco van Staden and Kwagga Smith.

“They will be two big losses for them, they’re both world-class players and can have a big impact on the game,” said Gatland. “They definitely will be a loss.”

Let’s not forget that World Cup-winning leader and number eight Duane Vermeulen has also been missing and though he returned to the squad this week, the third Test has come too soon.

The Lions, meanwhile, have had good luck with injuries on this tour, even welcoming captain Alun Wyn Jones back from what initially appeared to be a campaign-ending shoulder injury.

Original squad members Justin Tipuric and Andrew Porter are absent due to injury and would definitely have been in the mix for this weekend, but Gatland’s men have managed to avoid any serious issues in South Africa aside from Finn Russell missing the first two Tests.

The Lions boss had a strong hand to choose from for this third Test and while the Boks have depth in their squad, they would love to have de Klerk and du Toit in their starting XV again on Saturday. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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