CRAIG LEWIS and DYLAN JACK debate which one of the eight uncapped players in the Springbok squad is the most exciting prospect?
Lewis says Jasper Wiese
Towards the end of last year, when Wiese packed his bags for England – trading his familiar Cheetahs colours for the green, white and red of the Leicester Tigers – there were not all that many rugby followers who would have known his name.
As fate would have it, a change of environment, a new challenge and a different set of circumstances have unequivocally brought out the best in Wiese.
In the 2020-21 Challenge Cup, he emerged as the runaway leader in terms of carries and offloads, while he has also established himself as one of the Premiership’s most dynamic ball-carrying No 8s. The way he tucks the ball under one arm and powers into contact is reminiscent of another cavalier South African loose forward, Schalk Burger, who displayed a similar lack of concern for personal well-being whenever he hit his ball-carrying stride.
And now Wiese is on the cusp of realising his Springbok dream. He is, after all, another archetypical loose forward who fits the mould of a ‘warrior’, which is the buzzword for what the coaches want to see in players who are involved in the national set-up.
This is about players who are as strong mentally as they are tough physically. Since moving to Leicester Wiese has become a new and improved version of himself. Introspection and a ‘clean slate’ in England have allowed him to appreciate that he was playing within himself while in South Africa.
But the 25-year-old has now broken through what he might have thought was his ‘ceiling’.
‘Since leaving school, it has always been about the Cheetahs – I was there for six, seven years, so eventually you limit yourself to, “If I only play for the Cheetahs it would be fine,”’ he told Telegraph Sport. ‘That’s where I made a mistake; almost limiting myself to not be the best player I could be. I had a fire in me to start a new challenge and to prove some people wrong who had doubted me.’
A year ago, a stop-start career was spluttering away in an unknown direction. Since then, Wiese has unleashed the ‘beast’, and the Boks are set to be the benefactors.
Jack says Rosko Specman
If the 2019 World Cup final taught us anything – and it did have many lessons – it’s that there is a place at the top tier of rugby for the diminutive gamebreakers who have been ignored at this level in the past.
Specman’s inclusion in the Springboks’ 45-man squad for the British & Irish Lions series is yet another indication of how the coaches aren’t narrow-minded when it comes to physicality and size.
Embracing his role as a potential match-winner and entertainer, Specman has almost seemlessly transitioned to fifteens, lighting up the field in a similar manner for the Bulls and the Cheetahs.
His nickname, ‘Specmagic’, is more than just a moniker, it is a philosophy on which he has based his game, with the intent of going out and making something happen whenever he plays.
He has had to be patient for his call-up, receiving limited opportunities in the early parts of his fiteens career – turning out for the Pumas between 2013 and 2015, and then for the Cheetahs in 2017 – all the while turning his full-time focus to sevens.
And while he reached the summit of sevens rugby – winning two World Rugby Sevens Series titles and an Olympic bronze medal with the Blitzboks – the dream of pulling on a Springbok jersey has remained.
It says everything about Specman’s commitment to realising this dream that he could miss out on a potential Olympic sevens gold medal to be involved in the Lions series.
Of course, Cheslin Kolbe will walk back into the Springbok starting lineup when he is available for selection.
But when you look at how congested both the domestic and Test season will be – with the Springboks set to play 14 Test fixtures in the space of five months – it is logical to expect a split-squad system to come into play and with it, opportunities for fringe players.
When that opportunity does come Specman’s way, it will be hard not to be excited and inspired seeing him lace his boots for a Test debut at the age of 32.