Have Stormers backed the wrong horse?

Devin Hermanus

It has become common for SA Sevens stars to make a name for themselves in 15s, and Ruhan Nel is no exception. He starred for 2017 Currie Cup and SuperSport Challenge champions Western Province, for whom his versatility was integral, especially in midfield where his decision-making, defence, power and speed were invaluable.

Nel showed no loss of explosiveness after switching back to his preferred code for the start of the 2017/18 World Sevens Series in Dubai and Cape Town, and his ‘speak-to-the-handoffs’ were one of the highlights of the recent SA leg at Cape Town Stadium.

He will be vital to the Blitzboks’ cause in 2018 as they aim to defend their World Sevens title, and chase Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup glory.

A code flip-flopper like Nel, who is contracted to SA Sevens until the end of 2018, would make a welcome addition to any SA franchise, especially the Stormers, who have lost outside backs Bjorn Basson (Oyonnax ), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) and Leolin Zas (Sharks).

Yet, when WP’s director of rugby Gert Smal went kicking over rocks in search of a new backline star for the Stormers’ upcoming campaign, the best he could come up with was former Springbok centre JJ Engelbrecht. Really?!

A bright future at Newlands was expected for the PE-born Engelbrecht when he joined from Eastern Province in 2008, and he showed promise at wing for the Streeptruie in the Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup competitions between 2009 and 2011. But he defected to the Bulls in 2012 and was retreaded as a centre.

Engelbrecht played 12 Tests for the Boks at No 13 under Heyneke Meyer, but the latter stages of his time at Loftus exposed a lack of the aptitude and skill required to become a top-class centre. He was awarded a national contract in 2014, yet has not played for the Boks again.

He joined Ospreys in 2016 but left the Welsh side after six months, and will return to Cape Town next season after wrapping up a stint in the Japanese Top League.

Failure to launch at the Boks and Bulls, followed by a few seasons idling overseas – has WP Rugby backed the wrong horse by welcoming Engelbrecht back into the fold?

He will provide Stormers coach Robbie Fleck with options in midfield, after Jones’ departure left Damian de Allende, EW Viljoen and Dan du Plessis as the only recognised centres with Super Rugby experience at the franchise. But, after almost two years in Europe and Japan, will Engelbrecht, 28, be able to handle the pace of southern hemisphere rugby?

Also, he will have a tough job challenging for a spot out wide for the Stormers, as Bok speedsters Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen have swapped Free State for the Mother City from 2018.

They will compete for the No 11 and No 14 jerseys with incumbents Seabelo Senatla and Dillyn Leyds.

Engelbrecht may still prove to be an astute signing by Smal, but Nel’s conditioning, versatility and familiarity with the current WP structures make him an obvious asset that should have been acquired.

Devin Hermanus works in the SA media industry, never says no to seconds, PVRs “The Bold and The Beautiful”, and sleeps with his eyes wide shut. Follow him on Twitter: @DevinMyles11

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- Devin Hermanus

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    Likely JJ was cheaper.

  • Peter

    Itll take a heap of good performances to convince me JJ Engelbrecht was a good buy back

  • DK

    Play JJ at left wing and Leyds on the right. Look to develop Notshe at 13 (with Augustus coming through and talk of Vermeulen returning, why the hell not?).

    9. Vermaak 10. Willemse 11. Engelbrecht 12. De Allende 13. Viljoen 14. Leyds 15. Marais

    9. Duvenhage 10. Du Plessis 11. Rhule 12. Du Plessis 13. Notshe 14. Peterson 15. Craig Barry

    Perhaps Ruhan Nel and Werner Kok will also be available to the Stormers along with Senatla…?

    • Mike S

      Ha, ha, ha. Notshe at outside centre. Why the hell not? He does not even make the side at loose forward on a regular basis. You want him to become a top class centre in how many years?

      If people don’t know how to do something, they generally can’t do it.

  • DK

    Mike S Read this article to learn in which position Notshe’s rugby journey started. Considering the success he had there at junior level, it is a shame that he was moved. I am not usually an advocate for moving players around but I do contend that there are special individuals who are able to make a good fist of playing more than one specialist role: Ashley Johnson, for example, has grown into an effective hooker and blindside flank for Wasps. I reckon Kolbe, with scrumhalf experience for the Blitzboks, could be a formidable 9. Young Zain Davids can (and should imo) play and has played centre even though he is mostly employed as an openside flank etc.


    • Mike S

      Ashley Johnson was a loose forward who moved to hooker. He did that over two seasons. First playing from the bench and only starting regularly halfway through last season. One of the major reasons for abandoning eighth man was his lack of height and probably a gradual loss of pace. I think that, should he return next season, he could be a contender. But he remained in the forwards.

      Do you really see Notshe, in your imagination, taking the outside gap and outstripping the opposition down the touchline. I do not think he has the speed for that. Being a relatively fast flanker, does not make you a centre, even if you succeeded at junior level because of your size.

      Anyway, I think you would probably find better centres in the junior sides or club sides in the Western Province. Why would you want to turn a flanker into a centre. Doesn’t make sense. Same with Zain Davids. If Kolbe wants to be a scrumhalf, he should give up his current contract and compete with scrumhalves for the position, shouldn’t he? I don’t think he wants to be a scrumhalf, otherwise he would have made the move the first time his size as an outside back was questioned. Some people are actually happy to remain in their favourite position.

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