JON CARDINELLI looks at five uncapped players who have impressed in the early stages of 2016 and should be considered for Allister Coetzee’s Test squad this June.
RUAN COMBRINCK (LIONS)
Combrinck has been one of the Lions’ most consistent performers over the past three seasons. His 2016 stats certainly make for impressive reading, and suggest that he deserves an opportunity at the highest level. According to SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta powered stats, the Lions winger is among the top 10 Super Rugby performers for tries (six), clean breaks (18), defenders beaten (31) and metres made (810). His positional play and tactical kicking have been of a high standard, and he could well be utilised at fullback. Given Cheslin Kolbe will not be available for the Test series against Ireland, Combrinck could be seen as an understudy to first-choice fullback Willie le Roux.
FAF DE KLERK (LIONS)
De Klerk looks set to feature in the three Tests against Ireland. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise to see him used in a starting capacity. Fourie du Preez’s retirement, the season-ending injury to Cobus Reinach, and Francois Hougaard’s commitment to the Blitzboks has opened the door for the young Lions scrumhalf. Many will argue that his form alone warrants selection, and that he and Lions teammate Elton Jantjies must start in tandem against Ireland. Coetzee has already stated that he is looking for halfbacks with the ability to make good decisions and boost the Boks' attack. De Klerk has offered the Lions’ attack some impetus in 2016, but still has a lot to prove with regard to his tactical kicking and game management.
JEAN-LUC DU PREEZ (SHARKS)
The Sharks' seven from 12 record suggests they have struggled to maintain a high standard of play. The performances of their 20-year-old blindside flank, however, have been more consistent. Du Preez's attitude and execution on defence has served as a statement: Even at the tender age of 20, he belongs at this level. No South African forward has made more tackles this season (118). At the very least, Du Preez should feature for the SA A side against the England Saxons this June. That said, it will be a matter of when rather if he ascends to the senior side.
LIZO GQOBOKA (BULLS)
Like De Klerk, Gqoboka is a player who has already trained with the Bok squad. In 2014, then coach Heyneke Meyer said that Gqoboka had the potential to develop into a great loosehead prop. Evidently, Gqoboka has worked hard to improve his strength and hone his scrummaging technique in the ensuing seasons. He’s been a consistent performer for the Bulls in 2016, and was recently preferred to Bok loosehead Trevor Nyakane to start in the north-south derby against the Stormers. Gqoboka and his fellow front-rankers Adriaan Strauss and Marcel van der Merwe outscrummed their more fancied Stormers opponents. That performance would have impressed the Bok selectors and shown that Gqoboka is ready to take the next step.
JACO KRIEL (LIONS)
Kriel toured with the Boks in late 2014 but did not receive an opportunity to play. The Lions flank has maintained a high standard at Super Rugby level over the past three seasons, and should get a chance to prove himself this June. Many will be hoping that he can replicate his Super Rugby feats on the international stage. The 26-year-old has already produced a series of sparkling running performances, beating a total of 31 defenders and scoring three tries. The internationals this June, however, should be more physical in nature and Kriel may need to focus on his role at the breakdown. The No 6 did show his aptitude for this sort of scrap when the Lions forwards outmuscled their Sharks counterparts in Durban earlier this season.
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