TANK LANNING and ZELIM NEL debate which future Springbok stalwart will make his Test debut in 2017 as South Africa sets off on the long road back to respectability.
Tank – Wilco Louw
Based on his current Super Rugby form, the super powerful Sharks loosehead prop Thomas du Toit wouldn’t be a bad call, but a few contributing factors – which I will touch on below – see me putting my money on up-and-coming, monster-thighed Stormers tighthead prop Wilco Louw.
Like Du Toit, Stormers No 1 Oli Kebble should also be a serious candidate here, but having seen the congestion at the front end of the loosehead prop queue, he has opted to head to Glasgow at the end of the season, and will no doubt play many Tests for Scotland with WP Nel.
It’s this congestion that is also blocking the path of Du Toit who, to my mind, has jumped ahead of Bok incumbent Beast Mtawarira at the Sharks, and as such should also be knocking on the Bok door.
But with transformation goals being what they are, it’s likely that all of Mtawarira, Lizo Gqoboko and Ox Nche will find themselves ahead of Du Toit in that queue. As will Trevor Nyakane should he not be used at tighthead.
Then there is also Steven Kitshoff, who, weirdly, was actively persuaded to return from France by the current Bok coaching regime. One has to feel for Du Toit, whose stint at Munster and decision to focus on playing looshead prop only, have paid serious dividends in terms of his performance.
Having lost Julian Redelinghuys to injury, Vincent Koch, Werner Kruger and Marcel van der Merwe to the lure of the Euro, and Frans Malherbe to a lack of conditioning, Louw is almost a shoe in as one of the Bok tighthead props!
Deservedly so, though. Louw has clearly benefitted from the Stormers’ new conditioning regime, gets round the park well, is in great scrumming form and has the potential to anchor the Bok set piece for years to come.
Zelím – Lukhanyo Am
Although we’re now at a stage in the regression of the Springboks where there are more questions than answers in the starting XV, you could argue that Jaque Fourie’s move to Japan in 2011 was a tipping point.
As was the case with all of the Bok veterans who circled the wagons between 2008 and 2011 and effectively picked themselves, Fourie left a giant void at outside centre when he jetted off to the Far East.
It’s a hole that, six years later, remains unfilled. But that’s all about to change.
Seemingly out of nowhere, 23-year-old Lukhanyo Am and EW Viljoen (21) have surged into focus as veritable contenders.
Each has strengths in different areas. They both tip the scales at roughly 95kgs with Viljoen the taller by two inches, but it’s Am’s nose for the ball that has got me excited about his long-term impact in the Test arena.
At a time when the pedigree of South African Super Rugby packs have been diluted by finesse wing forwards, Am’s fetching flair and breakdown bravery offers a return to substance over style in the backline.
This season, Am defers only to Sharks centre-partner Andre Esterhuizen for turnovers won. As opposing coaches become more familiar with Am’s skill-set, their attacking plans will begin to factor in safeguards against the ball hawk’s excellent technique and decision-making ability at the tackle point.
Test matches between teams that are evenly matched are often decided by players who come through in the clutch.
Am’s natural feel for the flow of the game allows him to anticipate where the play is going and to pop up at the right place at the right time.
With a little bit of refining, and a capable supporting cast, Lucky No 13 could fill Fourie’s boots.