Four rounds of 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby action are in the can and that’s just enough of a sample for the AOR team to lock horns over which South African player has caught the eye so far.
Tank Lanning – Carlu Sadie
Well, of course it was going to be a prop! And having only played 52 minutes of Super Rugby, this while giving away two scrum penalties to rank sixth on that list, I’ll admit to this being an “out there” choice…
But with it being such a problem position in South Africa, hence the scramble to send the likes of Thomas du Toit and Trevor Nyakane down the same rabbit hole they dug for Coenie Oosthuizen, how sensational is it that this man is an out-and-out tighthead?
Yes, he benches for the current King Kong of SA tightheads, DHL Stormers prop Wilco Louw, and in all likelihood would not even have seen a splinter were it not for Frans Malherbe’s injury, but when given his (albeit limited) time to shine, he has looked the part.
At just 20 years of age, the future looks pretty bright. Schooled at Bellville High in the Western Cape, the 124kg chunk of meat has proper pedigree via selections to both the SA Schools and Baby Bok sides.
Bucking the behemoth trend that sees many modern-day tightheads close to a height of two metres, 1.8-metre Sadie will look to invoke his inner “Piet Bester” to make scrumming tricky for the opposition. And tricky it can be, especially when the other two in his front row are also vertically-challenged.
Ruan Dreyer has had his moments for the Emirates Lions, John-Hubert Meyer has looked more comfortable than Du Toit for the Cell C Sharks, while Michael Kumbirai is another youngster on the rise.
My point? Surely it makes more sense to invest in a young out-and-out tighthead prop like Sadie, instead of throwing resources at trying to convert a loosehead into a tighthead – something nigh on impossible?
Zelím Nel – Damian Willemse
Super Rugby is flush with local players that have delivered eye-catching performances in the retrograded format.
With a credible coach at the helm of the Bulls, Travis Ismaiel has emerged as a winger who can be taken seriously, Jesse Kriel is playing his most convincing rugby, RG Snyman is running wild and Andre Warner looks pretty useful.
Robert du Preez continues to impress after switching Clifton 4th for North Beach, and Sharks halfback Cameron Wright has been especially impressive off the bench, matching a laser service with a real appetite for defence.
Stormers blindside brute Cobus Wiese will need a visa for Japan next year, and the fan-favourite in this debate would probably be electric Lions finisher Aphiwe Dyanti, currently averaging one try in every 10 carries.
A case could be made for each of these players; Willemse gets my vote. The kid only turns 20 in May but he plays with the swagger of a proven campaigner.
Former Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper tagged Willemse as his “new fav player” after the youngster attacked the Highlanders like they were the underdogs at The Zoo.
Willemse complements elite agility with good awareness and a turbo acceleration out of his jinks and jukes to present a serious threat to the integrity of opposing defensive lines.
Though Willemse does use a lot of ball (running almost as much as he passes) the Stormers attack will benefit, when they take advantage of defences that are increasingly keyed on their flyhalf.
The teenager’s Test prospects won’t be helped by the fact that he plays a secondary role in the kicking game, but his willingness to get stuck in on defence is very encouraging. While Elton Jantjies has missed nine of 39 tackles (77%), Willemse is stopping runners at 89% efficiency and making his presence felt at the breakdown when required.