While overseas stars Marcell Coetzee and Dan du Preez are both thriving at their respective clubs, DYLAN JACK looks at locally based players who could come through at eighthman.
Can we find a young local successor to Duane Vermeulen? The World Cup star will be turning 34 in July and is heading towards the final lap of his Test career.
His departure to play in Japan again has also left the Vodacom Bulls a bit light in the position. This is especially the case considering he has been joined abroad by Hanro Liebenberg, who had the potential to be the next long-term captain for the Pretoria franchise.
Marco van Staden offers a left-field option of sorts, but there’s little doubt that he is far better suited to the side of the scrum, where his abilities at the breakdown can be properly utilised.
At Test level, Van Staden may be seen as more of a natural replacement for Francois Louw, who retired from Test rugby at the end of last year after playing a vital role from the bench in the Springboks’ World Cup campaign.
If the Bulls want to go for youth, they could do far worse than backing Muller Uys, a former Western Province youth player who captained the Bulls U21 side to the provincial title last year.
Moving across the Jukskei, the Lions are looking slightly thin at No 8 as captain Warren Whiteley will not be involved this year due to another setback with his knee injury. Kwagga Smith’s departure to Japan leaves Hacjivah Dayimani as the senior No 8 in the squad.
With his eye on the Olympic Games, the 22-year-old has got himself involved in the sevens set-up since August last year and is probably more focused on that than a Springbok call-up.
Roelof Smit, who has moved across from the Bulls after his frustrations with a lack of game time, will be keen to prove a point and is also an option in the position. At 26 years old, he still has time on his side if he can put his knee injuries aside.
The best chance for a local No 8 to come through will likely be at the coastal franchises, as both the Sharks and Stormers are blessed with depth in the position. In Durban, new signings Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Henco Venter will be fighting for a starting position between them, while Tera Mtembu and Phepsi Buthelezi offer alternatives.
Rassie Erasmus has clearly seen something he likes in Notshe, having given him the chance to go out and play in the Test against Wales in Washington in 2018. However, the 26-year-old has not played a game for the Springboks since, with injuries and a loss of form costing a place in the 2019 World Cup squad.
Meanwhile, at Western Province, Juarno Augustus will be hoping to complete his first professional campaign without any long-term injuries. When fit, the 2017 Junior World Player of the Year offers the closest South African version of England wrecking ball Billy Vunipola.
As a more subtle option, Jaco Coetzee has shown he is more than comfortable at No 8 despite being seen as more of a specialised openside flank.
Younger options exist in Lions rookie Francke Horn, the previously mentioned Uys and Sharks flank Evan Roos, who already made his senior debut in just his first year out of school. While all three have a bright future ahead of them, they possibly need a year or two’s worth of senior development before being considered for Test rugby/
Considering these options, it is likely that we will see either Coetzee or Du Preez provide backup for Vermeulen until the end of the British & Irish Lions series in 2021, when the latter would have to consider his international career.
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