Through our history in South African Rugby, especially in the modern era, players with flair, immense skill and X Factor have been overlooked due to their stature and lack of physicality.
Coaches have been reluctant to give these type of players a shot at Test level and many times have done so due to public pressure when that smaller player outplayed bigger counterparts at provincial or franchise level. Some excelled and some didn’t, but if Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has taught us anything since 2018, it’s that size clearly doesn’t matter to him.
One “survivor” that comes to mind is Breyton Paulse who racked up 64 Test caps between 1999 and 2007, and then there are guys like Gio Aplon who seldom disappointed in a Springbok jersey, but only got 17 Test caps.
Aplon is good under the high ball, can manipulate defences and tear them apart out of nowhere but he never got enough opportunities under Peter de Villiers, and Heyneke Meyer had him on the fringes after his last Test against England in 2012.
Fast forward to 2019 and we see players like Kwagga Smith (1.8m, 95kg) and Cheslin Kolbe (1.71m and 75kg) – regarded as first-choice players to front the All Blacks in New Zealand – and Herschel Jantjies (1.67m, 75kg) repaying the faith of their coaches with outstanding performances.
These are guys with a work-rate and fitness level that can carry on for the full 80 minutes. Sure, size helps when a huge Fijian winger runs at full speed at anyone, whether that opposing player weighs 80kg’s or 120kg’s the chances are they’ll get bumped anyway. A big thing is made of a smaller player’s size when they are sent flying in contact, but how often does that even happen?
This weekend we saw Cheslin Kolbe made 12 tackles and only missed two, and some of those tackles were against Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane.
Smith won two turnovers and Herschel Jantjies hasn’t put a foot wrong in two Tests and scored the try, which Pollard converted, to give the Boks a 16-16 draw in Wellington against the world’s best team.
I think it’s safe to say that we are past the obsession with size over talent. With proper conditioning, and sheer grit and determination, players of all sizes have squashed the narrative that size matters when it comes to Test rugby.
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