Springboks head coach Allister Coetzee has backed “bundle of energy” Faf de Klerk not to change his game as South Africa’s debutant at scrum-half against Ireland tomorrow.
Naming a side containing nine of the team which ran New Zealand close in last November’s World Cup semi-final, new boss Coetzee has also brought in six to the matchday 23 who played no part in predecessor Heyneke Meyer’s squad for that tournament, including five from Super Rugby’s high-flying Lions. As well as de Klerk, centre Lionel Mapoe will earn his first start for the Boks with their franchise team-mates Elton Jantjies, Warren Whiteley and Julian Redelinghuys on the bench.
“I am rewarding form and Lionel is one player who has been outstanding in Super Rugby. But this is not a 15-man team; it’s a 23-man squad,” Coetzee said yesterday. “Lionel is grateful for the chance to start and he has been showing consistently good form and played well for the Lions.
“Faf is a bundle of energy and I have to rein him in a bit. He’s explosive and (No.8) Duane Vermeulen will help take care of him there and he has the experience of Pat Lambie (at fly-half) outside him. It wasn’t an easy team selection but that makes me proud; proud of the fact there is competitiveness in the squad, proud of the fact the players have brought huge intensity and a massive work rate to training.
“They made it easier for me. We are 27 players operating as one team and that was a big part of our planning for the weekend.
“Players will be tested and will have to exercise their skills with less time than they have in Super Rugby. There is also a plan that the players have had to buy into.”
Of 24-year-old De Klerk, shorter and lighter than opposite number Conor Murray, Coetzee employed a cricketing analogy when he added: “I can’t put Faf in a box and change his way of playing, but I can help him to make better decisions. It’s not about hitting sixes, it’s not a T20, it’s about building an innings, and I’m sure Faf understands that. But when the opportunity is there, and with good decision- making and a feel for the game, he’ll know when the time is right to have a go.”
For his part, De Klerk feels he can compensate for a lack of Test caps with plenty of confidence. “I don’t have the experience to know what Test rugby is like but I reckon in any match there are ample opportunities to play instinctively,” De Klerk said.
“I haven’t been told to alter my game, so I’ll stick to what I know. I know the northern hemisphere teams are more used to a slow-paced game, so I might try a few tricks and see how Ireland react. If they react positively, then we will try something different.
“Not a lot of guys get their first cap with a start, so I really hope I can make good decisions and show why I’m in that jersey. The way I see rugby is that if you get your opportunity, you have to use it. Now I need to make the most of it.”
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