By Nick Mulvenney
TOKYO (Reuters) – Faf de Klerk would make an unlikely Spiderman with his distinctive mane of blonde hair but the South Africa scrumhalf does share one trait with the fictional superhero as a small man who packs a big punch.
In a team not short of crunching tacklers, the effervescent halfback, who stands 5ft 6in (1.72m) tall, has produced big hit after big hit at the World Cup as the Springboks have worked their way to Sunday’s semi-final against Wales.
“There’s no doubt that a big hit from any player gets everyone excited,” South Africa loose forward Francois Louw said on Wednesday.
“And a guy like Faf is really good at it, he picks his moments, he drifts behind the line then rabbits out and makes big spot tackles, usually on the forwards, which is quite impressive for a little guy. He’s got a big heart.”
For de Klerk, the fact that he and slightly smaller winger Cheslin Kolbe (1.71m) have become integral parts of the South Africa team is a matter of great pride and, he hopes, an inspiration to youngsters.
“Cheslin has been amazing for us … it’s great to see and it gives confidence to a lot of kids who might shy away because of their size,” he said.
“If you have heart and you are willing to work hard you can reach your dreams. That’s sometimes what I play for, to inspire people, especially young kids.”
One aspect of de Klerk’s game that was more problematic for Springbok fans desperate to see their backline unleashed was the frequency with which he went to the box kick in last weekend’s quarter-final victory over Japan.
De Klerk conceded that South Africa do kick a lot but he did not see that changing much in Yokohama on Sunday against a Welsh side similarly fond of putting boot to ball.
“We did kick a lot in the air and Japan managed to contain our aerial battle but we managed to get so much yardage,” he said.
“I think it was a very positive outcome on that. We gave them possession but they rarely managed to do anything with it.
“It’s all about seeing the space. I feel our wings have come so far these last two years and are competing so well in the air.
“They have got some good wingers (too) so I think it’s going to be a massive battle in the air.”
De Klerk is becoming a bit of a cult hero in Japan and further afield with his ability to spin the ball on his finger in particular attracting plenty of new fans.
His dedication to kicking from hand has also inspired plenty of less adulatory comment online but one play on the Afrikaans word for kick (skop) and spider (spinnekop) particularly caught his fancy.
“There’s a nice funny picture where it says I can spin a ball and kick so is that a spinnekop?” he said.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; editing by Richard Pullin)