When South Africa played the Barbarians at Wembley Stadium in 2016, we saw a proper David-versus-Goliath match-up. Only, in this particular version of history, it was Goliath who came out on top during a key moment in the game.
On the verge of half-time, Taqele Naiyaravoro rumbled upfield with nothing between him and the try-line, except for Sergeal Petersen.
Petersen’s a prodigiously talented rugby player and is a real pleasure to watch in full flight. But he fell off Naiyaravoro like an autumn leaf from a tree, and the giant went on to score.
Should we have expected anything different? Naiyaravoro is 1.94m tall and weighs 123 kg, while Petersen is 1.71m and 82kg.
Considering the intimidating dimensions of Naiyarovoro, as well as other international backline flyers such as Rieko Ioane (1.89m, 102kg), Israel Folau (1.93m, 103kg) and George North (1.94m, 109kg), can significantly smaller South African outside backs like Sergeal, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule genuinely match these international opponents?
Again, I must stress that I often enjoy watching these guys play. There’s a lot to be said for individual brilliance, solid tackling technique, an ability to be coached and a willingness to keep working on one’s perceived weaknesses. And I do believe there’s a place in Test rugby for a lot of these players. Bryan Habana and Shane Williams, for example, weren’t big athletes but they lit up the world stage. The key question though is how do you best maximise certain players’ strengths?
No doubt, players have a preference when it comes to where on the field they play. But surely they shouldn’t be blind to guidance and suggestion from wise and experienced rugby brains?
Nick Mallett has stated on record that he believes Cheslin Kolbe could reign supreme at scrumhalf. Kolbe’s similar in size to Aaron Smith, arguably the best No 9 on the planet. He also has instinctive vision, a cracking step, and he can pass and kick well too. Plus he’s already played at scrumhalf for the Blitzboks. Right now, Kolbe’s lost to the Boks while playing in France. But he’s still only 24 years old.
The Boks currently have a dearth of scrumhalves. There are a few youngsters showing promise at local unions but they’re yet to make consistent appearances or even play beyond Currie Cup level.
A novel suggestion would be to take special talents like Kolbe, Petersen and Rosko Specman and develop them at scrumhalf. Why wouldn’t Rassie Erasmus rope in Fourie Du Preez, who has gleaned so much coaching intellectual capital by playing for Eddie Jones in Japan, to school this trio in all facets of halfback play?
Imagine the explosiveness these guys could bring to the positon. Their collective ability to snipe around the fringes could well be a sight to behold.
While I’m at it, let’s compare some more apples to apples. Take three more remarkable SA youngsters: Sikhumbuzo Notshe (1.86m, 102kg), Zain Davids (1.81m, 104kg) and Hacjivah Dayimani (1.88m, 99kg). They’re all currently playing at loose forward for their respective franchises. Notshe is a blend between Ardie Savea and the aforementioned Ioane, and Davids is SA’s version of Ngani Laumape; both played a bit at centre at school level while Dayimani runs the 100 meters in 10.7 seconds.
I say leave the back-row to rising loose forward superstars like Jean-Luc Du Preez and Juarno Augustus who tip the scales beyond 110 kilograms and have Notshe, Davids and Dayimani terrorise opposition defences from the back.
Tell me this backline isn’t intimidating: 9 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Handre Pollard, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 12 Zain Davids, 13 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 14 Hacjivah Dayimani, 15 Frans Steyn
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