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Opinion

The fight for second fiddle: Who should understudy Handre Pollard?

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Roar Guru
29th September, 2020
13

South Africa won the World Cup without a flyhalf on the bench, unless you count utility back Frans Steyn, who is predominantly a centre and fullback on the pitch.

This means they went through 80 minutes in their big games with just one man – Handre Pollard – suitable at flyhalf. While Pollard is certainly a brilliant player, injuries are always an emergent threat. If Pollard had been injured in the World Cup final, Steyn would have been forced into a position not quite his type.

Now, with a new coach, there may be certain space for changes. Many Springboks, including Pollard himself, have been supportive of the 6-2 substitutes makeup which, in the World Cup final, was two backs; Herschel Janjities and Frans Steyn.

A scrumhalf is certainly necessary, but a utility back is not so. In the knockout games during the World Cup, Pollard played the full 80 minutes for his side, with both the backline substitutes coming on. In most games, Faf De Klerk has been replaced in the dying moments by a replacement scrumhalf.

However, now with several Test matches in the coming years, South Africa have the chance to mix-and-match and find their ideal starting squad and substitutes.

If a flyhalf were to be one of those backline substitutes, who should it be?

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We have contenders from inside Super Rugby itself and there are contenders from each team. From the Stormers, we have the rising star Damian Willemse. From the Lions, we have long-time stalwart Elton Janjities.

Then we also have Curwin Bosch from the Sharks. This year, Morne Steyn mad a prodigal return to the Bulls. While finally, on loan from the Sharks, Robert Du Preez has been a star in Manchester with the Sale Sharks alongside De Klerk and multiple others.

Curwin Bosch

Prior to lockdown, RugbyPass had rated the young man as the form flyhalf of Super Rugby. He is certainly a quick man and a risk-taker, perhaps one of the class to play for the Boks.

Attacking statistics
Points 86
Tries 0
Metres 49
Runs 23
Defenders beaten 4
Clean breaks 0
Passes 82
Clean breaks 0
Try assists 3

However, he has achieved a measly 41 per cent tackle completion, – a dismal nine successes from 22 tackle attempts.

In kicking, he has managed a 72 per cent strike-rate, second to Morne Steyn.

Kicking statistics
Kicks 59
Conversion goals 15
Penalty goals 16
Attempts 43
Successful 31

Robert Du Preez

According to Sport24, given the man’s size and skill set, he is theoretically a like-for-like replacement for Pollard.

Apparently, he has been impressive as the second-highest points scorer so far in this year’s premiership with 116 points. According to Sport24, he has accumulated a record of handling skills at Sale. He has made 174 passes without one going awry, which is certainly quite a feat.

To begin with, few flyhalves even throw that many in a season, and to have that count without even one going awry is extremely impressive. Such a record points to more-than-solid and perhaps spectacular distribution.

His 187 running metres is extremely respectable and surpasses many others. His tackle completion of 84 per cent is also solid.

According to Opta Sports’ stats, he leads the premiership with eight try assists – no small feat considering the quality of his contemporaries.

Elton Janjities

With such an overall attacking performance in the Super Rugby, Elton Janjities has been a firm two under Pollard for a long time. He has been rated as the South African Super Rugby player of the decade.

This year has been no different with a strong attacking influence for the Lions.

Attacking statistics
Points 42
Tries 1
Metres 161
Runs 45
Defenders beaten 12
Clean breaks 6
Passes 133
Try Assists 6
Defensive statistics
Tackles 16
Tackles missed 8
Turnovers won 0
Turnovers conceded 10
Kicking statistics
Attempts 22
Goals 15

His kicking accuracy of 68 per cent is not the best, but it is certainly decent. Janjities may lose out in defence, where he has missed eight tackles just from 24 attempts. Tackling is his weakness, but at least he is not the worst of the lot, still with an overall tackle rate higher than Curwin Bosch. His attacking record is certainly respectable.

Also, with reference to a video published by Squidge Rugby, might I add that Janjitites has been a crucial part of the expansive Bok gameplan that was used against lower-level sides in the World Cup.

Rassie Erasmus had a gameplan to maximise the abilities of Elton when this man was on the pitch. While he is far from the most well-rounded no.10, he is certainly a strong distributor.

With some reviewed footage in the Squidge video, it has been consistent that when Janjities takes the ball, he has a strong distribution to set another in space, sometimes causing line-breaks.

Firstly, he often takes the ball from the scrumhalf flat, before spotting the space and dropping off the pass. Sometimes he switches off the pass to a forward runner, while on other occasions he finds it through to a gap, bringing out the Bok runners.

Damian Willemse

Attacking statistics
Points 38
Tries 1
Metres 164
Runs 40
Defenders Beaten 20
Clean Breaks 4
Passes 57
Try Assists 4

He is perhaps the best running no.10 of the lot; 164 metres, 20 defenders beaten, and four clean breaks. However, he has made fewer passes than Janjities and Bosch. He has been electric with his pace, which is one of the best in the world for a flyhalf.

Defensive statistics
Tackles 37
Tackles Missed 10
Turnovers Won 7
Turnovers Conceded 14

A total of 79 per cent tackling is strong but not the best. The number of turnovers conceded is not as far as egregious as a missed tackle, and seven turnovers won has been strong.

Kicking statistics
Kicks 41
Conversions 9
Penalty goals 5

This is one statistic that goes against Willemse. Sure, he can score a kick, but this kick rate places him next to Jonathan Sexton in this year’s Six Nations. This kicking consistency is rather poor.

Morne Steyn

The prodigal return of Morne Steyn was not brilliant. It was not equivalent to Aaron Cruden’s in the return to Super Rugby but, in certain areas, he was solid.

Attacking statistics
Points 40
Tries 1
Metres 7
Runs 9
Defenders Beaten 0
Clean Breaks 0
Passes 71
Try Assists 3

He has had a decent overall attacking influence with 71 passes but it was still lower than that of Bosch. With a measly running record of seven metres made in the entire season, he is certainly not a running type.

Three try assists match Bosch, but lose to Willemse. However, try assist stats may not tell the full story as they often favour the man who throws the last pass.

He has been solid in two areas; kicking and defence.

Kicking statistics
Kicking
Kicks 36
Conversion Goals 4
Penalty Goals 8
Attempts 15
Successful 12

Given his metronomic nature, it is no surprise that he kicks solidly. An 80per cent kicking record surpasses all other South African flyhalves in the competition.

Defensive statistics
Tackles Won % 83%
Attempts 42
Successful 35

This tackling record on the cards beats that of Willemse, Bosch, and Janjities.

Conclusion

Robert du Preez has shone for Sale and may have a strong chance with a strong count on the statistics and the point count for Sale. However, Elton Janjities has been in the team in the 2019 World Cup, while none of the other contenders have.

Curwin Bosch has been a strong attacker this season, but not so defensively, and his attacking record could put him in contention. Meanwhile, Morne Steyn and Willemse lurk in the wings.

Disclaimer: All chart statistics are from Rugby Pass International

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