Take Wandi, leave Jesse

Nick Law

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus recently said that his Rugby World Cup squad is “80 or 90% selected”, adding,”there’s a lot of place for guys to break open the door and get in to that team”.

Although only four weeks into the Super Rugby season, a number of uncapped players are clearly doing everything in their power to gain the attention of the selectors. Sevens convert Rosko Specman has been breaking ankles and busting lungs, Jason Jenkins and Hanro Liebenberg have been the Bulls’ bash brothers, Marnus Schoeman must be a nightmare to play against, and young Aphelele Fassi has been dumbfounding opponents with his footwork.

For many of those mentioned, the only way onto the plane to Japan is via a slump or an injury to one of the established names ahead of them. But one wildcard player could book a window seat on performance alone, and that’s Wandisile Simelane.

You’re thinking, “Oh, here we go – another emotional call about a player who has only played one game of Super Rugby!”

Actually, Simelane’s mouth-watering performance for the Lions last week didn’t surprise anyone who witnessed him bagging tries for fun as a Baby Bok in 2017 and 2018. Hearts jumped when his debut Super Rugby start was announced and, against the Jaguares, he made 105 running metres from 11 carries, beat 8 defenders, scored a blistering try, and clearly displayed his game-breaking abilities with a beautifully-timed basketball pass that set up a try for Kwagga Smith.

Of course, with just one match played, he is going to need an extraordinary run of form to make the RWC squad, but if there’s one word that sums up Simelane’s talent, it is just that.

There is rarely space for more than two outside centres in a RWC squad of 31. In 2015, Jesse Kriel was the sole specialist. Given Lukhanyo Am’s red-hot form, along with the quality of his performances in the Green and Gold to date, Kriel will likely have to make way for the youngster.

Think of Jesse Kriel and you see a freak of athleticism – all muscle and sinew, the perfect combination of pace and power. These physical characteristics have resulted in some fantastic moments on the international stage, no less his try against New Zealand back in October.

That said, he has struggled to exert himself at 13 in the Springbok jersey, and rarely dominates in that position even at provincial level. He was excellent recently against the Sharks, but lateral running has been an issue for him in the past and he doesn’t create sufficient space for those outside him, like Am does all so naturally.

While he’s an effective one-on-one tackler, his defensive organisation (albeit it in a new system) doesn’t make up for his shortcomings in attack.

There will be comments made about Simelane’s experience, or lack of, but you may remember the contributions of another young centre as the Boks claimed the trophy back in 2007.

Arguments will be made for Kriel’s utility in being able to cover the wing position, but Simelane has also played much of his best rugby there for SA U20s, the Golden Lions, and Wits.

Given the solidity of Am as a first-choice player in the outside centre position, and the experience of De Allende and South Africa’s other likely options at 12, Simelane would be a fantastic addition to the squad. He’s still raw at this stage, but those who know him always mention his maturity.

World Cup final. New Zealand four points ahead with 10 minutes to go. Simelane runs onto the pitch…sounds like the right guy to win it, right?

FRESH TAKE is an initiative to identify, feature and develop talented rugby writers who are not yet part of the mainstream media. If that sounds like you, send us a sample of a story you’d like to write to info@alloutrugby.com

Nick Law is a London-based Creative Manager, music and food nerd and South African rugby obsessive. Follow him on Twitter: @NickLaw86

- Nick Law

Let's chat

  • Rudie

    Die ou het een goeie game gespeel en Jesse het al baie gespeel en baie ondervinding wat meer waarde vol sal wees so dink weer

    • Rudi

      Ek stem dat Wandi te min ervaring het. Die probleem is ongelukkig dat Jesse net eenvoudig nie oortuig op 13 nie. Die blote feit dat die vraag eers gevra word of ‘n baie groen 13 met talent dalk kan oorweeg word is genoeg bewys dat ons erens anders as Jesse moet kyk, of dit nou Wandi is of nie.

    • Johan

      Hy is n bul so gooi hom uit!

  • SweetAz

    There is a good reason Rassie’s squad is 80% selected, in one word, EXPERIENCE. Every team at the world cup will have some freakishly talented athletes but history shows us time and time again that the team with the most test caps is normally one of the teams in the finals or the team that wins it. So no mate, I don’t care how freakish this guy is, Jesse has many test caps now and I have seen an improvement in his decision making over time so he’s been there, done that and has a few t-shirts to prove it. 5 minutes to go 4 points down against the AB’s you want cool heads, not some afkop hoender Lion.

    • John Comyn

      It’s what we have got use to. Every time the Lions win a game we unearth the next Jonah Lomu.

      • albert Hoffmann

        Agree that it is silly article, but what do u expect from the caliber of so called journalist on this site. What i dont understand is why people like u and dumbaz above get so jealous everytime a positive lions article comes out. Why are u so threatened. Actually the article has got f all to do with the lions and rather an individual?

        • Herman Schroder?

          Ha ha ha, Dumbaz – priceless. Cheers.

  • Barry

    Sorry, but it’s a bit silly championing a player for Springbok selection after one Super Rugby match!

    Mpimpi also plays center and I would think would be light years ahead! There are many others already in the fold, such as Am, Kriel, Nel, Ward, all with buckets more experience!

    • Herman Schroder?

      Barry and no trophies to back up that so called ‘experience’. At the 2015 WC we played with 920 plus caps in some of the games and still only poxed our way to a hubcap winning third spot. Experience is overrated imo, it’s the smarts and mental strength that count. Last years failed Bok team dominated by players from teams that finished eleventh and twelfth on the SR log. No surprise Rassie ended up with a lucky 50/50 win ratio.

      I agree one match does not qualify you for anything as yet but those names you have mentioned and other so called experienced oupa’s have blown hot and cold for a long time now. Rassie’s main problem is he has too many ‘average’ inconsistent players in his mix and as I’ve said previously, he might as well throw the names in a hat and do a lucky WC draw. He will need two hats however and you know why. Cheers.

      • Barry

        I am not sure I recall Am or Mpimpi blowing hot and cold. They’d both be in my Squad on merit. The point is they have two solid seasons under the belt, not a single game!

  • Alberto

    Jesse has been one of the most consistent and impressive centres this year – against the very players touted here – so the logic offered is at the very least, flawed…
    Am has been around for years – and like Jantjies, he fails to step up.
    Some youngsters have excellent potential – do you throw them in the deep end? I argue that is stupid unless you have no choice. Potential must be developed – look at Eddie giving Cokasiga game-time when being left no option – but sticking with proven ability when available…
    Obviously form is key – your failure is to recognise form when you are looking at it…

    • Johan

      Jessie is overrated and his defence is non existent. So can see all the negative comments comes from bul supporters who is not objective!

      • Just Saying

        93% tackle success so far this SR season.

    • Spartan

      Am failed to step up? Which match are you referring to?

      • Gunter

        Am is not even a good Currie Cup player. Leave Kriel behind for this guy after 1 game?! That’s the difference between NZ and SA. Look at a guy like Lam he’s not even in the AB picture after his stunning 2018 season. They should not allow clowns like this to write articles about something that they clearly don’t know anything about

  • Samoan2678

    Nah bru, you can’t leave Kriel behind. That would be ludicrous, how can you go to a world cup with 2 Rookie 13’s?

    • albert Hoffmann

      not saying replace him with simelane, but both bok centers are overated, One never passes and is so predictable, and the other runs sideways like a crab. The only reason they both play is that some fool gave them contracts years ago. u can easily leave both of them behind.

      • SweetAz

        So you get your tits in a knot when someone criticizes Lions players but its OK for you to criticise Bok players? So not only are you stupid but a hypocrite as well, ai tog, nou hoe bou mens n nasie.

        • Barry

          “Tits in a knot”, well that’s new! Lol. Conjures up an unfortunate picture!

        • Herman Schroder?

          Come back to SA and help us to ‘ bou a nasie’, otherwise may I suggest you leave the criticizing to the local yokels. We at least have a vested interest. Cheers.

          • SweetAz

            Cheap shot, have you never heard the term exile? Do you think the current government lived in SA during “apartheid”? I have lost even the tiny bit of respect I had for you now, you have just demonstrated extreme poverty of intelligence.
            At least I’m not one of your local yokels wandering around Newlands and Ellispark wearing an All Blacks jersey.

        • Dean Bright

          Jesse has been running straight through the middle of opposition defenses lately. Did you see the try he picked up from Pollard’s chip kick up the middle? What about the others where he’s been running straight through and sometimes around opposing defenders. He’s showing the faith coaches placed in him early in his career. I feel Rassie’s influence at the Bulls and Springboks has had a lot to do with his development, among other Bulls players.

  • Jay

    I have to concur with some of the guys above. Experience is the key when talking about World Cup winning teams. I have watched Simelane play in the JRWC and am not sure what all the hype is about. Sure, he is talented but so is Augustus so by your logic we should drop Duane and take him? Let them journey their way through the ranks. They and the team will be all the better for it.

    And I hate to say it but Kriel has been on fire since the Mitchell influence so I am not sure why you would even question his inclusion.

    • Barry

      RAM upgrade necessary…. have we forgotten about the abysmal performance our 12 & 13 put in on the year end tour a mere four months back! Jesse is looking much better in the new order in Pretoria, but he needs to do a lot of convincing to make up for the EOYT performance! Damian, well same ole same old!

      • Jay

        I think I do remember parts of it although some I wish to forget. I do remember that Kriel scored in two of the games despite having De Allende on his inside. As stated below, I am by no means saying Kriel is the finished article but you cannot deny there has been significant improvement in his game.

        • Barry

          Hey Jay probably a faulty hard drive. Lol.

          Yes he has improved over past few weeks, but it’s at Super Rugby level and still early days. The significant difference between him and Am is that Am creates space and opportunity for his wings, Jessie has yet to learn that trick. I suspect that the two of them will be our WC 13’s, but I expect Am to start

          • Jay

            Perhaps time to upgrade to SSD ;-)

            Am is still my preferred 13 too. He has a natural ability of finding players outside him space which I am not sure can be taught. Would love to see what a combination of him and Serfontein could produce

          • Just Saying

            Jesse Kriel – 3 try assists so far this season
            Lukhanyo Am – 2 try assist so far this season

      • albert Hoffmann

        100% barry, both are terrible. Worst center combo in international rugby by far.

    • John Comyn

      Jesse has been playing some good rugby and deserves his place in the squad on form so far. The only concern I have is he tends to have these brain farts at crucial times in big games where he does something totally ridiculous. There are at least 4 centers in SA who way ahead of the youngster at this stage.

      • Jay

        I am by no means saying he is the polished article yet but there has been a marked improvement from him of late. He has actually learned how to pass which I thought would never happen. If he continues on this trajectory I am very excited to see where it leads.

  • John Comyn

    Not sure why I am commenting – you seem to have asked and answered all the questions. Come a semi final and final in the WC do you really want a youngster at 13 against AB’s, Ireland, England? Unless this guy is another Jonah Lomu he has very little chance of making the cut. Definitely a great prospect going forward but throwing him to the wolves now could end badly.

  • Dean

    You want to throw a rookie in at 13… one of the most defensively difficult positions… in a showpiece tournament? After the current centres have already spent a year learning a new defensive system and are still getting to grips with it?

    Jaque Fourie was not a youngster at the 2007 tournament having played at the 2003 version. Frans Steyn already had a number of caps under his belt by the time he arrived at the 2007 cup, having made his Bok debut the year before, and again he wasn’t playing 13.

  • johan

    Clearly this guy does not know what he is talking about….

  • Corrie Bresler

    I’m stlii of the opinion that the Bok centre pairing should be Jan Serfontein and Francois Venter as 12 and 13, respectively; of course on the provisio that both are fit and injury free.

  • Safmarine

    ‘Given the solidity of Am as a first-choice player in the outside centre position, and the experience of De Allende’
    Please no…

  • Pierre

    Jan Serfontein would be a much better option. Outside center is the most difficult position to defend, you dont want a rookie there that will make errors. Cause that will cost tries. World Cup games are pressure situations where you need players to be calm and can perform under pressure. NZ won the previouse two WC’s with very experienced squads.

    • Herman Schroder?

      They also didn’t win the previous WC’s over a twenty five year period with experienced squads old chap. NZ were also very lucky to beat France in 2011 when our very own Craig Joubert opted out of giving France a penalty in front of the posts in the closing stages. I do however agree with Corrie above, Serfontein and Francois Venter a far better bet. Both D’Allendig and Kriel are not too smart or skillful and will get shown up by the more intelligent centres out there. Cheers.

      • Pierre

        I am not saying NZ did well in all World Cup tournaments. I am saying that all teams that won the WC, were experienced teams. No 13 is a crucial position in the backline and you need experience there. I think Frans Steyn and Serfontein should be in the squad.

  • Graham

    The only way kriel is not in the world cup squad is if he gets injured

  • Mike

    Hoe dink julle mense.Nog elke keer wat kriel teen Am gespeel het,het hy hom ore aangesit.En dan het ons nog vir Serfontein wat die beste binne senter is in sa rugby op die oomblik,en wat van Frans Steyn,Ruhan Jansen Van rensburg,Andre Estruizen wn so gaan die lys aan.Nou wil julle dink aan n nat agter die ore kwota speler.Wereld beker moet jy jou heel jeel beste span vat.Elke speler moet die beste wees in sy posisie.Maar o ja Rassie moet 50 persent kwotas kies. So ons kan maar vergeet om n wereld beker weer te wen

  • The Saint

    Geez, what a moronic article.

    • SweetAz

      Well what do you expect? It’s written by a Nick,-the spectator version of a “Glen”

  • Euan

    Jy is besig om k@k te praat praat, weet jy wat aangaan in Rugby? Dis nou net so goed soos ons los Pollard hier en vat Affies se losskakel.

  • Dean Bright

    Simple – Serfontein, Am, Kriel and Frans Steyn. Those are your best centers. I’m guessing De Allende will be picked, only the selectors know why!

    • Jay

      Would love to see how a centre pairing of Serfontein and Am would play

  • Barry

    Loads of commentary on who should or should not be the 12 & 13 for WC, but the reality is the Erasmus has to delivery a 50% tally, so let’s face it, one of these two positions need to be a player of colour. Will it be Am at 13 or Damian at 12.

    My vote without hesitation would be Am at 13. He creates option for the players outside him whilst Damian just crashes up.

    That would leave a debate over the choices for 12. We need to remember that Jan Serfontein made himself unavailable in 2018. – does Erasmus cow tail to this Or does he look at one of the other options: Esterhuizen, Venter?

    • Dean Bright

      Let’s face it, he’s not going to make that 50% target unless there’s a few injuries. If he’s picking his ideal squad it will probably only have 12-13 players.

      • Barry

        The thing is Dean, he’s not picking his ideal squad, he’s having to pick a representative side, which he’s agreed to do. That’s why I think it’s futile putting forward names that don’t make allowances for his 50% target! I’m not saying I like it, but that what We face!

  • Martin

    Doesnt matter who you chose next to de allende they will look bad. If we chose jan at 12, who should be our first and only choice for the world cup, then you have to chose kriel at 13. He will put him in space and they will both be strong on defence. Am should go as back up, similane will be in contention coming 2023,not now. Let him play cc and 2 full seasons of superugby then we can chat again. Look at dyianti, he is playing poor at the moment, one season wonder.

  • Wesley

    DDA is the only out there should be. Simelani could be included next year if he steps up through SR, build again for 2023. We need some better planning on a squad 4 years in the making. Rassies only had 2 with the wasted Toetie years starting from scratch. Lets do some forward planning for once.

  • Deon

    Like he defended against the rebels today you would be crazy to let him go to the world cup

  • Eugene

    Pathetic article,,, Kriel has shown he is a class outfit. Everytime he played against Am he beat him comprehensively. SO DONT WRITE CRAP

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