How will Boks Papier over the Faf-sized scrumhalf cracks?
Absent De Klerk means Embrose Papier is up against Currie Cup-winning Sharks captain Louis Schreuder
There has been a huge clamour for the Bulls’ Springbok scrumhalf Embrose Papier to start Saturday’s Test against England at Twickenham.
Papier, who has spent an inordinate amount of time on the sidelines as Faf de Klerk made the position his own this season, is in line to be unleashed against England. With De Klerk off limits due to club commitments, Papier, who has accumulated just 21 minutes of Test rugby in four appearances, is the most experienced scrumhalf in the Boks touring party.
He was also reduced to the role of observer in the Super Rugby season where he made just three starts.
He told this reporter last month that he still feels “fresh”, which is remarkable when you consider it is November and he has been injury free.
That he should get decent game time on this tour, which also features stops in Paris, Edinburgh and Cardiff, is beyond dispute.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will be well aware, however, of the perils of blindly sending Papier into battle. This weekend, for instance, the Springboks face England, which have the wily Eddie Jones as head coach and former Bulls coach John Mitchell as their defence strategist.
Papier gushed last month about the effect Mitchell’s teachings have had on him this season. He feels he has developed immeasurably even though Mitchell used him sparingly in Super Rugby. Mitchell knows his game inside out, moreover he is acutely aware of the scrumhalf’s shortcomings. Deploying him for an extended period against England would be setting the 21-year-old up for failure.
Jones, whose team has been decimated through injury, knows that, apart from standing up to the bone rattling physical challenge the Springboks are likely to present, his team’s best route to victory is through tactical superiority.
That is exactly where Mitchell, with his coaching experience in SA, will try to pinpoint the tourists’ sensitive spots.
Papier will be firmly in his crosshairs should he get the starting nod from Erasmus on Thursday. The irony is that Papier, with his four caps, is the most experienced scrumhalf in the touring group that also includes Bulls teammate Ivan van Zyl and the Sharks’ Louis Schreuder.
Of course, Mitchell will also be familiar with Van Zyl’s game but as a less exuberant link man compared with Papier’s potency with the ball, the former player is less likely to be afflicted by what the opposition throws at him.
At some stage on tour Schreuder needs to get a crack. He toured with the Springboks in November 2013 but never made it onto the playing surface. As a Currie Cup winning captain he must be chomping at the bit.
Should Erasmus push Papier into action against England it will be the most ringing endorsement of the player’s progress, which has largely taken shape on the training field this year. It may also serve to break down what Erasmus has so fastidiously tried to build this season.