Aphelele Fassi should be a central figure in the Springboks’ succession planning at fullback, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
If the Springboks had been able to play some Test rugby in 2020, rather than none, Fassi would undoubtedly have a few Test caps to his name already. Instead, the 23-year-old’s solitary international appearance came in the one-off match against Georgia on 9 July.
The dynamic outside back scored a try in the fifth minute with his first touch, and set up another with a lovely piece of handling followed by a well-weighted chip kick. It was a dream debut for the youngster, who didn’t put a foot wrong on the wing, and looked like a natural fit for Test rugby.
Just over a week later, he featured in a star-studded SA A side against the British & Irish Lions, roaming like a Rolls-Royce from his preferred position at fullback, racking up 72 metres, seven carries and five gainline successes.
This is just the start of big things to come from Fassi. He is the natural long-term successor to Willie le Roux and the sooner he starts banking meaningful international game time, the better.
To digress momentarily, the signs suggest that Damian Willemse is being earmarked as a utility back for the Springboks, who can cover flyhalf, centre and fullback in a similar mould to Frans Steyn.
We also can’t forget about Warrick Gelant, who will add further competition at fullback, but after only just recovering from a serious knee injury, his involvement in the Rugby Championship remains unlikely.
Fassi’s time is now and, for at least the games against Australia, he should become a permanent fixture in the Boks’ match-day 23.
Due to a congested Test schedule and travel challenges, the Springboks are expected to employ a split-squad system, and Fassi would be a likely and fully deserved benefactor as a wider group of players are deployed for duty.
What Fassi has going for him is that he is a unique player, with attributes that put him in a class of his own. He is lean and mean, with height on his side and a loping gait that makes it almost seem as if he is gliding when hitting his running stride.
The Sharks star also boasts an educated left boot, which offers the additional value of allowing for different kicking strategies.
Strong under the high ball, fearless on defence and with strong distribution skills to boot, he has all the raw potential to become a Springbok gem in the years to come.
Under the guidance of Le Roux, Fassi’s game management and reading of play will improve exponentially the longer he spends in the national set-up.
Of course, Le Roux only turned 32 years old on 18 August – and considering his importance to the Springbok cause – he could still push through to another World Cup.
But the Boks do need to begin their succession planning, and Fassi must be front and centre in that regard.