Planet Rugby

The contenders to replace Du Preez

01st July 2014 16:05

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Ruan Pienaar SA v world XV 2014

Next in line: Ruan Pienaar

With first-choice scrum-half Fourie du Preez out of The Rugby Championship, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer must assess his options.

None of the players below offer the complete expertise of the World Cup winner, hence his domination of the Bok number nine jersey since making his debut in 2004, winning 70 caps in that time despite a near-two-year absence as he recharged his batteries in Japan.

But with Du Preez sidelined for three months with an ankle injury, the Springboks now have to look elsewhere.

Here are the contenders to step in.

Ruan Pienaar (Ulster)

Royalty and religion are two subjects best avoided in Ulster, but Pienaar's status around the revamped Ravenhill ramparts do not fall far short of both king and deity in Belfast.

In the green and gold of South Africa, however, it has often been a different story. Derided as slow and sluggish to deliver ball from the breakdown, Pienaar has never really made the Springbok number nine jersey his own; even from Japan, Du Preez casts quite the shadow.

Over half of his 76 Tests since 2006 have come from the bench; his own versatility on top of the brilliance of his rival having hindered that particular statistic.

There is no doubt Pienaar's game management and leadership have improved drastically since his arrival on UK shores. But with Du Preez's slick service, nous and awareness so key to the Springbok game-plan, Ulster's South African saviour is still widely regarded across his homeland as little more than a safe pair of hands.

Francois Hougaard (Bulls)

Best described as a livewire, Hougaard boasts great speed and has professed his desire to remain at scrum-half rather than on the wing, where his pace has also been put to good use.

Pienaar may be the much-fancied heir apparent to Du Preez's throne, but the Bulls man knows Morne Steyn's game well and would form a highly dangerous partnership with Pollard.

His temperament can be called into question, but his service is excellent, his kicking ever-improving and his threat with ball in hand greater than that offered by the Ulster nine. But the Boks often lose shape with Hougaard pulling the strings, which is not ideal early on.

Hougaard should push Pienaar all the way for a starting berth, but his selection will ultimately depend on the opposition, the game-plan and just how adventurous the Springbok management are feeling.

Rory Kockott (Castres)

After two years of headline-grabbing performances in France, calls for the Castres playmaker's selection have been growing amongst South African fans, but it's highly unlikely he will be considered, despite his outstanding place-kicking skills.

Meyer has never openly said 'no' but reading between the lines of the Bok mentor's comments on the subject, the conclusion must be that if it was ever going to happen, it would have by now.

Kockott's personality could well be a sticking point - big egos don't last long in Meyer's setup, as was the case with the scrum-half's former Sharks team-mate, Keegan Daniel.

Louis Schreuder (Stormers)

Regarded as a long-term candidate for the Springboks, Schreuder has clearly caught the attention of Meyer in the past judging by his continued inclusion in recent Springbok squads. While little separates the uncapped Schreuder from the rest of the pack, Meyer noteworthily stated that Schreuder "fits in with the way we want to play."

The 24-year-old from Paarl is a longshot having only just returned to training with the Stormers from a fractured thumb, but was selected for the November Tests in Europe last year to the surprise of some critics. His undercooked outing in last year's Currie Cup Final didn't help to win them over.

Depending on if he proves his fitness for the Stormers in the next two weeks, he may feature.

Piet van Zyl (Bulls)

The 24-year-old's move away from Bloemfontein to join the Bulls has done his international prospects no good. After a stellar Super Rugby season with the Cheetahs in 2013 that led to his first two caps for the Boks, he has fallen off the radar as he spends most of his time in Pretoria on the bench. Van Zyl would combine wonderfully with former team-mate Willie le Roux, but it's hard to see him considered given his lack of game time.

The list extends beyond those four candidates with others in the frame. Cobus Reinach has excelled for the Sharks under Jake White.

Lions upstart number nine Faf de Klerk has caught the eye but is some way short of the chasing pack, while Jano Vermaak hasn't appeared for the Boks since last year's Rugby Championship. Sarel Pretorius, back in South Africa with the Cheetahs, is uncapped, the wrong side of 30 and arguably too erratic for Meyer's taste.

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