Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk said overseas experience could make all the difference for South Africa in this weekend’s sizzling World Cup clash with New Zealand — and brushed off concerns about his long hair.
After two weeks of training in high humidity and temperatures, the Springboks have been left ripped and ready, although De Klerk deflected the idea his blonde, surfer-dude locks were a distraction in those conditions.
“I have thought about tying it back, but my dad is pretty conservative so I’m just a bit scared he might fly over and take me home,” De Klerk joked ahead of Saturday’s opening Pool B match against the two-time defending champions.
“It might help a bit to get a bit of salt in the hair and keep it back a bit, that always helps!”
The 27-year-old, capped 25 times by the Springboks, 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.
The Boks claimed several big wins in 2018 and De Klerk’s impact was recognised when he was nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year.
Standing 1.72m tall and weighing a stocky 88kg, De Klerk has proved himself to be a feisty operator, combining slick distribution with a defensive game that punches well above his weight.
De Klerk was therefore unfazed about the prospect of facing either Aaron Smith or TJ Perenara of the All Blacks.
“They’re both great guys and both great scrum-halves. Either one of them can start and it shouldn’t have any influence on the team and that’s a great spot to be in,” he said.
“They play with a lot of freedom, great kicking, great chat on defence.
“The challenge for me is to put them under pressure… and from a tactical side, kick well and get some quick ball.”
De Klerk is one of eight players in the Springbok squad to be based overseas, something he says “does give us a little bit of advantage”.
“Obviously the more teams you get to watch, play against, you get ideas, get a feel for how a guy plays,” he said.
“I know a lot of the England players now, so I can sum them up a bit better. There are definite advantages to that and it’s just doing our homework on the people we don’t know.”
But he insisted that the Boks were not the favourites going into the showdown with New Zealand.
“Going into the match, both teams can win it,” De Klerk said. “We know it’s going to be a tight game.
“In the last four games (between the two sides), there’s been two points in it, so we’re definitely confident we can win it.
“But I think it’s going to be 50-50. It’s going to come down to a lucky moment or a referee call.
“We’ve got some confidence behind us with a few wins so hopefully we can carry that forward into the World Cup.”