Nyakane is Number One

Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Beast Mtawarira’s neck injury has forced the Springbok coaching staff to address a potential depth issue which has flown under the radar for a while now.

With Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff seamlessly tag-teaming all comers at loosehead prop thus far in the international season, there has been little or no need to think about finding them backup with next year’s World Cup in mind.

But as the Sharks man’s injury has shown, the name of a replacement for either prop doesn’t exactly trip off the selectors’ tongues. Simply put, the lack of depth at loosehead prop rivals that at scrumhalf.

At 33, Mtawarira has reached the age at which former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger gave senior players rolling, one-year contracts because he was no longer sure how they would perform year in and year out. Put another way, there’s no knowing when the 107-Test veteran’s performance will fall off an age-induced cliff.

Given the year the big man has had – where he has been the identikit of effervescence – this suggestion does sound like nit-picking but, as a country, we have a history of sacrificing World Cups at the altar of experienced players who were past it.

Even if he had not been injured, the plan should have been to rest Mtawarira for the end-of-year tour so that he could get in a proper pre-season to produce similarly fresh performances next season because finding a like-for-like replacement at this late stage will be difficult.

Kitshoff’s freakish strength – epitomised by scrummaging that is guaranteed to locate an opposing tighthead prop’s reverse gear, and heavy lifting in the carries department – has lulled us into thinking he’ll never get injured, but the prangs in rugby have written off many a Hercules.

So, what’s the best way to bridge the gap if one or both props suddenly become unavailable next year?

We have tighthead props coming out of our cauliflower ears. The queue behind Frans Malherbe reads: Wilco Louw, Vincent Koch, Coenie Oosthuizen, Thomas du Toit and Trevor Nyakane. Now would be the time to move the latter back to loosehead prop.

Whether it’s his fluctuating weight, passing himself off as a tighthead or a freakish ability to dance for such a big fella, Nyakane takes a lot of criticism from the media and the public. But the shift he put in against the destructive Louw in the Currie Cup semi between the Blue Bulls and Western Province on Saturday emphatically suggested he be the first cab out of the taxi rank to replace Mtawarira.

Another candidate for the audition has to be the Cheetahs’ Ox Nche, whose playing in the Pro 14 seems to have put him out of sight and therefore out of mind from prying selector eyes. What’s not to like about a prop named Nietzsche (the European commentators can’t get their tongues around Nche, so the Cheetahs’ cult hero has also turned philosopher)?

The one-test Bok is still an explosive carrier and seems to fit the mould of ‘busy prop’ that the current Springbok management team favours. What’s more, he pays his scrummaging school fees in the Northern Hemisphere, so it would make sense to continue easing him in where he plays most of his rugby these days.

Looking at next year, forgotten Bulls prop and uncapped Springbok Lizo Gqoboka is probably another one the selectors would have liked to have a look at, had a persistent toe injury not curtailed the best form he has shown in his career in Super Rugby.

One player who should be feeling a little confused by how things have turned out is Du Toit, who shifted to tighthead on the advice that it would hasten his journey to being a Springbok. It did, but just as he’s committing to the right side of the scrum the bus has filled up with more experienced tightheads.

It’ll be interesting to see if Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is tempted to move him back to loosehead again.

- Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Let's chat

  • Wesley

    Is it just me, or does this “swinging props” feel like a exclusively SA thing? Who else on international level is doing this? Why bungle around with this side and that side? It is highly specialist with especially tightheads only feeling their scrumming best late into their career, unless you are a freak. We are sacrificing great talent on the altar of coaches whims, when feeling they don’t have depth in a certain position. Coenie is not a tighthead, he may look great in patches but not for his scrumming, and seriously lacking his free running form he had early in his career (the injuries didnt help either). Thomas leading the same fate. Trevor looking good for Bulls after SR season, but again curtailed by injury and forced conditioning to become a tighthead. We have now had 3 great looseheads going through bad patches of form and injury because of uncertainty in their position and conditioning. STOP with this please.

    • Mike Stoop

      Yes Wesley, it is a South African thing. The reason for trying to convert useful, “busy” looseheads to tightheads is because our coaches, like our fans (yourself included as judged from your crusade against Malherbe), want their tightheads to be equally “busy”, even though the physical requirements and actual scrummaging effort almost precludes a tighthead from being as “busy” as a loosehead. None of the great tightheads of the past were very “busy” players. Kobus Visagie certainly wasn’t. He was our last really good tighthead. Strauli liked “busy” tightheads (Faan Rautenbach and Richard Bands for the 2003 world cup), so he left for Europe.

      In 2007, we had CJ van der Linde, a loosehead who moved to tighthead on Os du Randt’s return. Couldn’t scrum, but what a sidestep. His companions were Jannie du Plessis and BJ Botha, a 108 kg tighthead in a 125 kg league. In 2011 it was again Du Plessis and CJ van der Linde.

      In 2015, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe and Coenie Oosthuizen (ex loosehead) were selected. Trevor Nyakane was actually the number 2 loosehead in the 2015 squad. Why would you want to make a player who was your number 2 loosehead into a tighthead, when you already have three converted looseheads to choose from. Could there have been a political reason for that? The fact that he was promptly picked as the tighthead for the first England test, certainly suggests that. With all this to-and-froing, Trevor’s game has suffered. I certainly believed that he deserved his spot in 2015, and with Beast not available for the tour, he is probably the best choice. Now leave him be. He is a good loosehead. We have a possible future great in Wilco Louw, a solid Malherbe and an excellent conversion in Vincent Kock. Stop fiddling with Nyakane.

      • Wesley

        I’m with you on your argument on Nyakane, but my crusade on Malherbe was not because of his lack of busy loose play. His minimal gametime and still getting picked, undercooked even in the scrumming department (he basically stood still when we were supposed to dominate) and general lack of fitness only able to keep up for 50min of a test was what was bothering me. I really don’t care about for a prop to steal balls and run all over. He is supposed to be the strongest scrummager (not the loosehead, where Kitsoff dominates) pillar defense and strong ball carries close to the line. Thats it. Malherbe is average in all of them. Wilco is much better, even though he sometimes fades in one or the other dept.

      • Barry

        It is clear that most didn’t catch the Bulls Province game, because if they did, they would have seen a rather disappointing display from Trevor Nyakani. I appreciate it takes a bit of time to settle again at 1, but hardly cause for an article!

    • Heinrich Rodgers

      Wesley, yes it is exclusively an SA thing. Waiting patiently to confirm a sucessful “swing”. Exciting loose head careers have been torpedoed because SA coaches ignore the 10 000 hour rule, amply described in Malcolm Gladwel’s Outliers. They might often stand their ground, but will not provide constant aggressive right shoulder dominance.

    • John Comyn

      Ali Vermaak has decimated all comers in the CC and did so again Saturday. A pity the ref decided that, having given WP a few penalties in the first quarter, it was okay to no longer penalize The Bulls for losing their binding, collapsing and popping while they were going backwards at a rate of knots. Maybe he felt sorry for them. The one big scrum they won which ultimately resulted in a try was a Bulls penalty which he did not award. That said Trevor got better as the game went on. The guy on the other side was completely out of his depth.

      • boyo

        Vermaak and Shickerling must get Bok call ups I mean having only half a bok squad of WP players is utter rubbish. And drop Nkosi that lone sharks player is ruining the vibe. What are your thoughts on Leyyds and SP not making the bok team?

        Shouldn’t be close on Saturday with all these boks and soon to be boks versus a virtual club side.

        • Wesley

          Like all other arguments based on great CC team displays of the past, one good (shortened) season doesnt make you a worthy Bok inclusion. Unless you meant this as tongue in cheek boyo… :)

          • Wesley

            You almost got me there! Subtle, very subtle. I like it!

          • boyo

            Ha ha very tongue is cheek I mean some of the players being mentioned as possible boks are just so average its scary.

      • Barry

        Great to see someone watched on Saturday!

  • Nicholas

    Great article Sim.

    I think Trev might be our guy. From what I understand, he’s a great presence to have in the camp as well.

  • Dr Hoffman

    When was he no 1? Was this at the Tswane Pie eating contest 2018?

    • Vennspan

      I dare you to go say that to his face mate…

  • Chris Mouton

    I’d rather play Thomas du Toit at loosehead. He played there the other day during the rolling subs rule and he absolutely dominated. Trevor is injury prone. He’s had two injuries this season. It’s nothing personal, but he needs to have a solid Super Rugby season to convince me that he’s the guy for the job.

    • Mike Stoop

      Let’s hope the Sharks play Thomas as loosehead against Louw on Saturday. Then he can really prove his domination. Like in 2017.

  • Mike Stoop

    Let’s hope the Sharks play Thomas at loosehead against Louw on Saturday. Then he can really prove his domination. Like in 2017. Pick Coenie at tighthead from the word go. See if he can dominate Vermaak.

    • John Comyn

      Yes a lot of noise being made about Thomas. I can’t see what it is all about nor, apparently, can Rassie. This despite Thomas’s ass kissing exercise when he was sent back to KZN. I reckon when Coenie gets up to speed old Thomas is going to struggle to find a spot at the Sharks.

    • Barry

      As ever the blue and white sunglass brigade hang on to a single match where, through poor refereeing Province got away with murder. They forget of course that Du Prees sat down with the ref at their next meeting, pointed out the infringements and what do you know Province were sent packing. For some reason we don’t get to hear about that one do we!

      • John Comyn

        Come now Barry! When exactly were WP sent packing? They beat The Sharks in the league phase and again in the final. Oh and they put 50 odd over The Sharks a few weeks ago. Rob Du Preez can cry all he likes but he knows that when Coenie went down so did the front row. Keep it real Pal!

        • boyo

          With such front row superiority it should be WP by 50 then this weekend John. Enjoy it.

      • Mike Stoop

        Lala Land. Very mobile, very busy both. Can’t scrum though.

  • Naas.

    This guy should not play anything higher than Currie Cup rugby. He is simply not strong enough.

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