Cobus Reinach’s journey to World Cup inclusion should particularly serve as an inspiration to others who narrowly missed out on selection this year, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In 2015, Reinach featured off the bench in all four Tests leading up to the previous World Cup squad selection.
While Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar were always set to head to that year’s showpiece event as the primary scrumhalves, it stood to reason that Reinach was well in line to travel as the third No 9 in the squad.
Instead, Heyneke Meyer went another route, opting to rather include Rudy Paige.
For Reinach, it was rough. At the time, I bumped into the talented scrumhalf at a Sharks training session and again at a Durban restaurant one evening on the eve of the World Cup squad announcement.
He attempted to put on a brave face, but it was clear to see that it had hurt to be so close and yet so far from realising his dream of featuring at the World Cup.
From there, Reinach endured a spell in the international wilderness. A loss of form and perhaps confidence too saw him overlooked at Test level, and eventually in 2017 he opted for a change of scenery by taking up a contract with the Northampton Saints.
His impact wasn’t instantaneous in England. Reinach had to grind, adjust his game and learn to value different strengths in northern-hemisphere conditions that didn’t necessarily suit his natural instincts as a ball-in-hand No 9.
However, by the time the 2018-19 season rolled around, Reinach discovered some insatiable form. Hardly a weekend passed in the European competitions without him making headlines.
As the Premiership’s top try-scorer, he ultimately took home both the Supporters’ and Players’ Player of the Season awards.
On the basis of Reinach’s irrepressible form for Northampton, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus had little hesitation in handing him a Test recall earlier this year.
When the 29-year-old came off the bench and scored a trademark try against the Wallabies on 20 July, it marked his first appearance for the Springboks in nearly four years.
Fast forward another few weeks, and Reinach buried any ghosts of his 2015 World Cup omission by winning a ticket to this year’s global event in Japan. He may still be seen a third-choice option behind Faf de Klerk and Herschel Jantjies, but he won’t care one iota.
His journey to Japan is a story of determination and redemption. It’s also a lesson for those who have also just missed out on a World Cup berth.
In this regard, you can’t help but think of Damian Willemse. The talented 21-year-old was surely well on track to head to Japan as the second-choice fullback, but an untimely injury ultimately scuppered that dream.
Then there’s 24-year-old Thomas du Toit, who would have given the Bok coaches something to think about due to his ability to serve as a ‘swinger’ prop featuring on either side of the front row.
Lizo Gqoboka discovered the form of his life in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, but has found the immovable Steven Kitshoff and Beast Mtawarira effectively blocking his path to the World Cup.
It’s interesting that all three players have since been linked with possible stints overseas. Willemse is set for a short-term loan move to Saracens, while Du Toit and Gqoboka are in line to head to Ulster and Montpellier, respectively, on a similar arrangement.
For these players, and others, the opportunity to evolve their games overseas can only be seen as a good thing.
After all, there is still plenty to play for. In 2021, the British & Irish Lions will tour South Africa. A couple of years after that, and the likes of Du Toit, Willemse and Gqoboka could still well be in the mix for World Cup consideration, and there are many others just like them.
Ultimately, as Reinach has shown, there is more than one road that can lead to redemption.