CAPE TOWN - THERE was a point during a press conference last week that Faf de Klerk, ever so slightly, let his guard down a bit.
He was responding to a question from me about the try he had created for Lukhanyo Am in the second Test against the Wallabies, where he took a tap kick and made a great run into the 22, and then delivered a perfect grubber for Am to dive on to.
I had told De Klerk that some fans on social media had stated that such a brilliant piece of play reminded them of when he was at the Lions, when they reached three consecutive Super Rugby finals, and I asked him if we would see more of that in the two games against the All Blacks.
His reply came with a giggle: “Uhhh… I would love to show it!”
But, almost as quickly as he chooses the much-maligned box-kick as an option, the 29-year-old scrumhalf added: “That was obviously an opportunity I saw and we all as players have licence to play if we see opportunity. But I think we sort of fell into that trap the past weekend a bit of over-playing a bit too much.
“We got a few attacking runs that really turned out well, but we might have put our forwards under a bit of strain. If the opportunity is there, I will definitely have a go and try and take it – if it’s there.”
But did we see De Klerk “have a go” against the All Blacks in Townsville? Instead, all we got was box-kick after box-kick, which might I add, goes against every part of De Klerk’s being, if we remember how he started out at the Pumas and later blossomed at the Lions.
He continues to vary his play cleverly at current English club Sale Sharks, so De Klerk is clearly playing to instructions, as are Handre Pollard and Herschel Jantjies.
It was just unfathomable how the South Africans kept putting boot to ball, even with less than two minutes on the clock when they were trailing 19-17, or when they were in the ‘red zone’ on attack.
Nienaber said afterwards that he didn’t think that the tactics at the end needed to change to a ball-in-hand approach, and felt that it was a “proper Test match… There are small margins, and we obviously have our DNA and they have their DNA.”
But since when was a box-kick in the All Black 22 part of the Springbok DNA? You would think that a world-champion side would have a bit more ambition than that to out-work the Kiwis. They beat New Zealand in Wellington in 2018 with a varied style, which was also evident in the 16-16 draw a year later, the World Cup quarter-final win over Japan and in the final against England.
The box-kick, or any kick for that matter, is not the issue. It is about how often it is used, and when. Jordie Barrett was picking apples out of the sky all day long, so why persist with such a tactic? Yes, George Bridge dropped one that led to Sbu Nkosi’s try, but that was a once-off mistake… and it doesn’t mean that the up-and-under should be the only Bok attacking weapon.
Siya Kolisi and his men should have won in Townsville, but they blew it. There was some hope at the end of the attack tunnel provided by Nienaber yesterday, when he spoke about the Boks’ DNA and how they want to attack space in this Saturday’s final Rugby Championship match.
He actually mentioned “keeping ball-in-hand”, a “passing game”, and that “sometimes the space is in behind them… then you must unfortunately utilise the kicking game to get into that space”.
So, fingers crossed for some creativity from the Boks with the ball, but seeing is believing…