South Africa’s Faf de Klerk has said that his approach will not change on Saturday against the All Blacks in the World Cup final despite being the only recognised scrum-half in the squad.
The 2019 World Cup winning No9 is set to start alongside Handre Pollard against the All Blacks at the Stade de France, with Willie le Roux being the only back on the bench after Jacques Nienaber named a 7-1 split on the bench.
Nienaber has since explained that left wing Cheslin Kolbe will serve as de Klerk’s back-up, but the scrum-half himself has said that flanker Kwagga Smith will also deputise for him, in what is yet another surprising twist in the Springboks’ selection.
The plan will surely be for de Klerk to play the entire 80 minutes, but both he and his coach seem confident in both Smith and Kolbe filling in for him should he come off.
When asked whether his approach will change now that he may need to play the full match, the 54-cap Springbok said that pacing himself will not end well for the Springboks.
“We’ve played like this before and I’ve played a lot of 80-minute games in my life,” the 32-year-old said. “If you’re going to pace yourself, you’re going to lose this game.”
While de Klerk does seem confident that he can last the entirety of the final, he explained who the back-ups are. He said: “Luckily, we’ve got Kwagga [Smith] covering nine as well, as he doesn’t get tired, so that’s fine. Cheslin’s also been training there, so we’ve got back-up, but hopefully I can be there at the end when we win. I just have to make sure I’m recovered well for the game.”
De Klerk will be lining up against longtime rival Aaron Smith in Paris, who will be playing his 125th and final ever game for the All Blacks before retiring from Test rugby. The South African was full of praise for his opponent when looking ahead to the final, describing him as the “gel” for the All Blacks.
“The way they’ve turned it around this year after playing [and losing to] us and the French shows a team who is close together, and the belief they have,” the Yokohama Canon Eagles No9 said.
“They had a lot of scrutiny after those games but they’ve turned it around and are playing unbelievable rugby. Playing with a lot more confidence. It’s good to see a side who can internally sort things out.
“They have such great players and leaders and I think Aaron Smith is one of the best guys for that. He’s the gel, on and off the field, sharing his experiences and getting through tough times in his career. He’s been a great player for New Zealand and one of the guys I’ve definitely looked up to. Hopefully I can get one over on him for this game.”