Scrumhalf De Klerk at heart of Bok's blitzkrieg defence
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk led a tackling blitzkrieg to help South Africa snuff out Japan’s chance to show off the pace they had to burn out wide in a 26-3 World Cup quarterfinal victory on Sunday.
De Klerk produced an outstanding, no-holds-barred individual defensive performance that galvanised a Boks side that led only 5-3 at half-time at Tokyo Stadium.
The 27-year-old joined the exodus of South African players to Europe when he signed for English Premiership outfit Sale in 2017.
He and his current Bok coaches led by Rassie Erasmus credit the move with sharpening his decision-making and improving his kicking game.
Both were on display as well as some much-needed raw defence that starved Japan’s touted wings of possession for much of the first-half.
Instead of free-flowing attack, it was all bone-shuddering tackles, de Klerk charging around like a head hunter, blonde surfer-dude locks making him all the more conspicuous in his man-of-the-match performance.
Prop Tendai Mtawarira took one hit a step too far, shown a yellow card by English referee Wayne Barnes for a tip tackle on Keita Inagaki.
The Japanese might have had 81 percent of the posession in the first 40 minutes, but they had a sole Yu Tamura penalty to show for their helter-skelter gameplan up against the Bok defensive wall led superbly in midfield by centre duo Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.
“They’re a great team and a great attacking team, our defence stuck with it,” de Klerk said.
The second period saw de Klerk start to play percentage football for the Boks, drilling kicks into the corners and hoping a blitz defence against a tiring Japanese team would force errors.
“At the start of the second half we started getting a few [kicks] back and managed to get a bit of purchase from that,” the scrumhalf said.
“All in all, very happy with how it turned out, but still a few things we could work on.”
Just a day after the free-running, offloading brilliance of the All Blacks saw them past Ireland, it was a very different approach by the pragmatic South Africans.
The Boks enjoyed dominance at set piece, competing at Japan’s line-out with success and bossing the scrum.
But where they really excelled up front was the driving maul, No.8 Duane Vermeulen and giant locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager the outstanding exponents of a tactic guaranteed to exhaust opposition teams.