They used to rub shoulders as the Lions scrumhalves and are good mates, but now Faf de Klerk and Ross Cronje are vying for the same spot in the national team.
Despite the 26-year-old De Klerk being the incumbent, Cronje was added to the mix by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus for the Rugby Championship opener against the Pumas in Durban next weekend.
The two’s fortunes have been contrasting to some extent.
Back in 2016, De Klerk played the first of his 14 Tests but then fell out of favour, which prompted him to move to Sale Sharks where his stocks grew rapidly.
On the flip side, the 29-year-old Cronje, who played 10 Tests for the Boks last season, had been overlooked before his call-up earlier this week.
“I believed it’s the right time to take a better look at him. In all honesty, I’ve never worked with Ross before,” said Erasmus.
Cronje was one of the nine Lions players who were involved in the Super Rugby final and only joined up with the rest of the squad on Wednesday.
Apart from Cronje’s experience, he is a tactically sound No 9 who is defensively very strong and could work with the other two young scrumhalves – the Bulls’ Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier.
“As a scrumhalf who’s been involved in the last three Super Rugby finals, he must have done something right,” said Erasmus.
Four scrumhalves in the group of 35 means there are no guarantees.
There is also the conundrum that De Klerk and fullback Willie le Roux, because of pressure from their clubs in the UK, might not be available for all six Rugby Championship encounters.
“We might keep some players like Ross and others in the squad or they might be released depending on the merits and occasions,” said Erasmus.
He added having worked with Papier and Van Zyl during the June Tests has given him more clarity on what they can add to the side.
“We know where we are heading with the other young scrumhalves in the squad like Embrose and Ivan,” Erasmus said.