Craig Lewis

Five players to watch in 2018

Damian Willemse on the run Damian Willemse on the run

CRAIG LEWIS identifies five South African players who could take the rugby world by storm in 2018.

Malcolm Marx
In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, Marx was an obvious choice for our Player of the Year award. The abrasive young hooker starred for the Lions in Super Rugby before making the No 2 jersey his own with the Springboks. Former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer – who first suggested Marx consider moving from the back row to hooker at school level – tells SA Rugby magazine the 23-year-old boasts all the attributes to only get better and better as he gains further international experience. It’s a mouth-watering prospect, and one that should certainly excite all South African rugby supporters ahead of the 2018 season.

Wilco Louw
The powerhouse prop was the surprise package of 2017 as he emphatically made his presence felt in Super Rugby, while also producing a peerless performance in the Currie Cup final, before then starting three Tests on the Boks’ end-of-year tour. If Louw can produce the same sort of dominance during the 2018 Super Rugby season, there is every reason to believe he will remain the Boks’ incumbent tighthead prop next season. Boasting immense strength – complemented by impressive athleticism that belies his frightening 135kg frame – Louw is the sort of front-ranker who will continue to strike fear into opposing props. He is another player who is still maturing, and the 2018 season could be another memorable one for the Stormers strongman.

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Damian Willemse
Willemse flew relatively under the radar in 2017, but this young star sparkled during the World Rugby U20 Championship, and then again in the Currie Cup. Although he boasts the ability to play at flyhalf, centre and fullback, the Stormers have made no secret of the fact that they see him as the future at 10. Still just 19 years old, Willemse looks set to have the opportunity to establish himself at Super Rugby level in 2018. Besides possessing a rare skill-set and one of the most lethal sidesteps in the game, Willemse is also a strong lad who isn’t afraid to get stuck in on defence. By all accounts, he appears to have all the attributes to become the complete package as he continues his rapid progression at senior level.

S’bu Nkosi
The powerful Sharks winger became particularly well-acquainted with the tryline in 2017 as he emerged one of the most promising finishers in the game. It was the sort of breakthrough season for the 21-year-old that got everyone sitting up and taking notice, while it was only an unfortunate injury in the Currie Cup semi-finals that denied him an opportunity on the Boks’ end-of-year tour. However, there is every reason to believe that Nkosi will be back in the mix in 2018 if he remains injury-free. Besides his speed and strength, the youngster is also a strong defender, which adds to his status as the sort of all-round winger that South African rugby has been crying out for.

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Warrick Gelant
It was a crying shame that Gelant was handed just the solitary starting opportunity for the Springboks on the 2017 end-of-year tour, and that it came in the relatively unfamiliar position on the wing. The 22-year-old was in a class of his own for much of the Currie Cup season – which saw him emerge as the tournament’s top try-scorer (10) – and was a deserved addition to the Boks’ touring squad that went to Europe. By the looks of it, Gelant is beginning to fulfil the immense potential he showcased as a Junior Bok, and 2018 could certainly be another breakthrough year for the skilful fullback. He will have his eye on that Bok No 15 jersey, and therefore everything to play for as new Bulls coach John Mitchell strives to bring the best out of him during Super Rugby next year.

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Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

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