Aphiwe Dyantyi is the sort of lethal finisher the Springboks have been crying out for since the heyday of Bryan Habana, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Following the Boks’ shock 36-34 win over the All Blacks on Saturday, Beauden Barrett may well have been haunted by his four missed shots at goal. The replays he also won’t want to see again are the two stunning tries scored by Dyantyi – for more than obvious reasons.
The first saw Dyantyi round the defence out wide, but rather than just dot the ball down, he sought to get as close to the posts as possible, which included sidestepping an almost bewildered-looking Barrett within the in-goal area.
It was an early indication that the 23-year-old had come to play, and that despite featuring in his first Test match in New Zealand, he would not be intimidated by the occasion or the opposition.
Dyantyi’s second try was also a thing of beauty. Receiving the ball close to the touchline, Dyantyi faced a one-on-one with Barrett, who had come round in cover defence. With little room to manoeuvre, the wing engaged his earth-shattering left-foot sidestep to ghost past Barrett, who was left clutching at thin air.
For Dyantyi, this was the sort of mesmerising performance made all the more impressive by the high-pressured environment it came in. Playing just his seventh Test match, Dyantyi completed 39 running metres, four carries, three clean breaks and made five tackles.
It was also Dyantyi who made the match-winning intervention with the final play of the game when he rushed out of line to get a hand on Damian McKenzie, who knocked the ball on as a result.
Dyantyi now has five tries to his name from seven Tests. He enjoyed a strong debut against England back in June, and sent out a reminder of his class when he secured a brace against Argentina in the Rugby Championship opener. However, it was Saturday’s performance in the Westpac Stadium pressure cooker that saw the youngster come of age as a Test wing.
As it was, many Twitter followers couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Dyantyi and Habana during that Argentina Test. In response, the 124-Test cap former Bok stalwart insisted that the talented newcomer shouldn’t be referred to as the ‘next Habana’, but rather be held in his own regard as the next ‘Aphiwe Dyantyi’.
Indeed, this column isn’t to serve as a comparison between the two, but rather as an acknowledgement that the Springboks have unearthed a much-needed gem in the flyer from the Eastern Cape, who is blazing his own trail.
Since the conclusion of the 2015 World Cup, which saw the careers of legendary duo JP Pietersen and Habana beginning to wind down, the Boks have been desperately searching for another world-class finisher.
That left wing berth has been filled with a variety of personnel since 2015, but still remained a position largely up for grabs when this new Test season rolled around.
Rassie Erasmus looked at the options available, and in many ways rolled the dice on Dyantyi, who had caught the eye in just his first full Super Rugby season. All the raw ingredients were there, but it remained to be seen if he had the temperament to match the talent.
That answer was surely provided in the most emphatic fashion on Saturday. Just ask Barrett.
What’s even more exciting is that those close to Dyantyi will tell you he can still get even better. With more time on the international stage, his defensive and spatial awareness will only improve, while he is constantly working on his aerial abilities.
By all accounts, though, the man who possesses a BCom honours degree is also a student of the game, and remains more determined than ever to continue learning from every Test experience.
It’s a prospect that should excite every Springbok and Dyantyi fan. Habana is one of them.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images