“Pocket Rocket” Faf de Klerk key to Sale bid for European title

Rohan Janse van Rensburg is predicting “pocket rocket” Faf de Klerk will deliver another remarkable one man show to take Sale Sharks into their first Heineken Cup semi-final with a unique tactic that offers the Springboks a way to unsettle the British and Irish Lions this summer.

World Cup winner de Klerk was a constant roving nightmare for the Scarlets as he harried the Welsh team to a humbling 57-14 defeat that offers real hope for Sale’s next assignment against a La Rochelle side that possess both power and pace.

Springbok centre van Rensburg has revealed de Klerk has been given license to operate on his own with Sale defence coach Mike Forshaw recognising the scrum half can get into the faces of opponents thanks to his lightening speed off the mark. De Klerk’s ability to cause chaos and confusion will have been noted by the Springbok selectors as they formulate their strategy to take on Warren Gatland’s Lions in three tests.

La Rochelle showed their attacking skills in the 27-16 win over Gloucester with significant contributions from Fijian centre Levani Botia and Wallaby giant Will Skelton, and now they have to come up with a plan to nullify de Klerk’s role.

There is considerable risk of fragmentation when one player flies out of the defensive line but van Rensburg, who is now back to full fitness after two leg injuries, is adamant the rest of the Sale tacklers are in tune with their scrum half’s solo efforts.

He explained:”With Faf every game is different and he is a pocket rocket and a special player. He has the ability and vision to see things when it comes to kick pressure and has a real feel for situations. Mike Forshaw gives Faf the freedom to do that – get out of the line and put the opposition under pressure. He has that freedom to do that whenever he wants and when it works out it is lovely for us.”

Van Rensburg is one of three very physical Springbok inside centres operating in Europe with Damian de Allende at Munster and Harlequins Andre Esterhuizen and they all want to be part of the test series against the Lions this summer in South Africa. Having been hampered by injury, van Rensburgh knows high profile Heineken Cup matches can help his cause and facing Botia will be a real challenge.“Botia is a unit and I saw him last year when we played them and their whole back line is a big test for us:“ he said. “I am happy for the South African guys doing well and it is a competitive set up and you do get compared with other players.

“It keeps you on your toes and you always want to do more and there is so much still to play for.

“La Rochelle will be a different test and there will be points in the match when things don’t go our way and just a couple of weeks ago against Wasps we had four yellow cards in one match. Anything can happen and we have to make sure we deliver the same energy and emphasis we achieved at Scarlets. We take pride in the way we played and it felt like a complete performance and now we cannot feel comfortable and step back. As a team we are excited to see where can go.

“This match is a great opportunity and it will take us out of our comfort zone and we love a challenge. We couldn’t end last season as we wanted because of COVID and we are now trying to put ourselves in a position to accomplish something great at the club. There is a great positive energy within the club and it is amazing to see us progress to a position where we can win some silverware.”

Having fought back from his hamstring and calf injuries, van Rensburg knows what a lengthy rehabilitation period involves and like the rest of the squad is hoping World Cup winner Lood de Jager can bounce back from his broken leg suffered in training last week. He added: ““Lood was amazing after he came back from the shoulder operation and when the broken leg happened everyone was numb.

“You never wish an injury on any player and especially Lood after the tough time he had following the injury at the World Cup. He was playing the best I have ever seen and then this happens and your heart breaks for him. I was talking to Manu (Tuilagi) about how you find a rhythm in your game and then suddenly the whole momentum is broken.”

Article written by Chris Jones.

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