SA Rugby Director of Rugby, and soon to be unveiled as caretaker coach, Rassie Erasmus has been tasked with turning the Springboks’ fortunes around 18 months out from the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Having played with Rassie in Bloemfontein at the start of my career, and having been coached by him at the Stormers in Cape Town, I can attest to the fact that he is well known for meticulous planning, technical prowess and his ability to come up with innovative, out-of-the-box coaching methods.
We are all waiting with interest to see how he will select his maiden Springbok team and I’m particularly looking forward to the make-up of the back three.
During my time at the Stormers, he described us – the back three, and more specifically the wingers – as “the special guys” and said that we needed to demand the ball from the forwards so that we could get involved in the game. In this day and age, it’s not enough for a winger to just score tries and be solely attack-orientated. The way a winger gets involved without the ball and his efforts on defence are even more important than ever.
I believe we have more than enough talent on the wings in South Africa. Sbu Nkosi is one of the players that has caught my attention. He is your typical modern-day winger, with oodles of speed and size.
Apart from his prolific try-scoring ability, I have been most impressed with his contributions off the ball. According to the stats, Nkosi completed 94% of his tackles during the 2017 Super Rugby competition. He also boasts really good technique at the breakdown and is always looking for the inside pass from the flyhalf.
Had it not been for an elbow dislocation suffered before the Currie Cup final, I’m sure he would have earned a Test cap on the end-of-year tour.
Another exciting prospect is Lions winger Aphiwe Dyantyi, who scored a sensational try on debut during a Man-of-the-Match performance against the Sharks in last week’s season-opener.
What I love most about the try he scored was how he was able to use his speed – I was so impressed how quickly he transferred the ball from hand to foot to execute the grubber kick. The fact that he didn’t lose any speed while doing so was special.
The try was phenomenal on its own but every time he got the ball it looked like something was going to happen. The instinct he has is something you can’t coach, but if he wants to make it to the next level he still has to put in hard graft.
For most newbies, the first year is usually the best and, when teams start figuring out how you play, it’s really about how you adapt and reinvent yourself. The game is unforgiving and you have to find your feet very quickly.
While I believe it’s of the utmost importance that SA Rugby invests in the incumbent wingers, as well as players like Jamba Ulengo, Kobus van Wyk, Makazole Mapimpi, Travis Ismaiel, Dyantyi and Nkosi, the selection conundrum facing Rassie is that, as much as there is plenty of firepower in the back three, there’s something critical lacking – experience.
Many have called for wholesale changes to the Bok back division but if we were to pick Warrick Gelant, Nkosi and Mapimpi or Ulengo, when the going gets tough who among them has been there before and could provide the calming influence? They all have the potential to make it, but not as a unit of newbies.
Ultimately, the player Rassie picks at fullback will determine who the wingers will be. If he opts for an inexperienced wing pairing I feel it would be better to have a wise, calm head like Ruan Combrinck covering fullback and ease Gelant in slowly while he gains experience.
Eddie Jones recently introduced the apprenticeship programme whereby an additional two players are selected as part of the Test squad. These players serve as apprentices in order to get acquainted with the Test level environment and learn from the coaches as well as current players.
In our case, the back three division is full of really exciting prospects but they lack experience. Rassie needs to create an environment in which there is an emphasis on knowledge transfer, starting with a mentorship programme whereby veterans such as Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen can offer insight on how to win Test series, World Cups, beat the All Blacks and offer sound advice on life off-field, which is just as important as between the four white lines.
A mentorship programme would be a way of investing in our future without entirely losing out on the experience of senior players. While I’m in favour of introducing fresh blood to the national fold, at this point an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ policy wouldn’t serve us well.
Chavhanga holds the Springbok record for scoring six tries on debut against Uruguay in 2005. Having retired from professional rugby in 2015, he now runs a production studio that provides young Africans with a platform to tell their stories. Follow him on Twitter: @tchavhanga