Van der Merwe: De Klerk pivotal to Springbok success in Japan
Franco van der Merwe believes compatriot and former teammate Faf de Klerk could be the difference between success and failure for South Africa at the Rugby World Cup.
The Sale Sharks man was nominated for World Player of the Year and Gallagher Premiership Rugby Player of the Season after his performances for club and country in 2018/19.
He continued to show his influence on the pitch for the Springboks as they claimed the Rugby Championship earlier this month, ending a ten-year wait for a Southern Hemisphere title.
And having previously witnessed De Klerk’s ingenuity first hand in Super Rugby at the Pumas and then on the same team at Lions, Van der Merwe expects the 27-year-old to deliver again in Japan.
“I now Faf pretty well, we used to play against each other in South Africa when he was still at the Pumas and I played for the Lions and then we played together for the Lions,” he said.
“I’ve watched his career over the years just booming and he is unreal. He’s a real dictator, he brings a lot of go forward, a lot of momentum and his kicking game is just as good.
“He is a very experienced player and that’s what he brings to Sale Sharks as well. He knows when to kick, when to run or when to just snipe around the corner.
“If he can do that for the Springboks in Japan, if he can do the same thing and use that experience, I think he will have massive impact on the tournament.”
South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus has yet to settle on his final squad, naming a 36-man party for a training camp in Bloemfontein this week before announcing the 31 players on Monday.
But Van der Merwe has already been impressed by what he’s seen from the Springboks in the build-up to the World Cup, especially the few new faces who have staked their claim.
“When I looked at the squad they picked there were a few surprises, but it’s guys who have really played well this season if you look at players like Cobus Reinach,” he said.
“He’s had a brilliant season in Gallagher Premiership Rugby for Northampton Saints and those sort of guys make a real big difference, so I think South Africa will go well this year.
“I think South Africa have picked a very strong, very physical side and hopefully they can bring the World Cup home if they perform how we know they can do.”
Van der Merwe will come up against De Klerk and Reinach in Gallagher Premiership Rugby next season after helping London Irish securing an immediate return to the top flight.
And having already cast his eye over some of the English players he will encounter in the 2019/20 campaign, the Exiles lock has also backed the Red Rose to go far in the World Cup.
“England have a very strong squad as well and I think it will be interesting who they pick in a few places, I think there are a few discussions over certain positions,” said the 36-year-old.
“The fly-half position in particular is interesting but they have world class, quality players and teams like Saracens have done well, Exeter have done well.
“They are two teams who have done really well last season and if you take those players and put them in the England squad they could have an unbelievable World Cup.”