Cape Town – Frans Steyn, the Springboks’ fifth-choice flyhalf, will start Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider against Argentina, but the South Africans must avoid a similar situation at the Rugby World Cup next year.
Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Johan Goosen, and Damian Willemse are all injured and/or unavailable for this weekend’s match at Kings Park.
However, as unusual as this flyhalf circumstance may appear, it has occurred before and will occur again. Stephen Donald was summoned from a fishing vacation to assist the All Blacks during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and he ended up kicking the game-winning penalty in an 8-7 victory over France.
Before him, Dan Carter, Colin Slade, and Aaron Cruden were eliminated, prompting the Chiefs veteran to respond to his country’s appeal with a dramatic Eden Park finish.
The major issue for Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber, though, is that he has not yet looked beyond the present group for reserve flyhalves, and it does not appear like he will.
“If you choose that path, you will most likely get five specialized flyhalves, which you will never use. If you are going to a World Cup, you can probably take two specialist flyhalves, and then the rest of your back-ups will be men that cover that position. I believe that this is how every team is constructed…” This week in Durban, Nienaber stated at his team’s announcement press conference.
“Had we traveled with five specialized flyhalves to the alignment camp… If you consider that the time and effort we invest on a player is currently eight hours and there are eight flyhalves, you can only invest one hour every flyhalf.
“However, if you have two or three flyhalves, you can devote nearly three hours every half. It reduces the amount of time you spend with the specialty position. There is so much attention to detail. You can, but I believe it dilutes the effect, so you probably shouldn’t.”
As we’ve seen, though, the Boks may have to deploy those new faces at pivot at France 2023, which is why it is imperative that they are exposed to the national team structure.
Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, and Grant Williams have all been included in the team as specialist scrumhalves this season, rendering Nienaber’s parallel of the five specialist flyhalves being a waste of resources irrelevant.
It is true that scrumhalf is a highly specialized position; thus, why is flyhalf not given the same consideration?
The Springboks are the highest level in South African rugby, hence it is essential that they have the greatest players in each position. As much as Willemse and Steyn give utility value to a squad, they should have one position as their primary area of duty and serve as backups in others.
Steyn is most likely suited for inside center, whereas Willemse is best suited for fullback. However, the latter’s accomplishments in the No. 10 jersey merit significant consideration as a pivot specialist.
But what if the All Blacks qualify for the World Cup next year? Manie Libbok, Jordan Hendrikse, and Chris Smith are uncapped, whereas Donald has 22 caps.
His World Cup debut was preceded by three years of tests.