As a new European season dawns, SA Rugby magazine pinpoints four overseas-based South African players who could stake a claim for higher honours.
Over the past couple of years, the Springbok coaches have proven beyond doubt they are willing to reward form, regardless of where a player is based.
Springbok debuts for Jasper Wiese, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Joseph Dweba would have seemed only fantasy a year ago. So too the Springbok recalls of Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez and Wilco Louw.
Now a fresh opportunity beckons for South African players in the English Premiership and Top 14 to impress the national coaches.
A prodigious talent at either fullback and on the wing, Green’s departure from the Lions was lamented by many members of the Johannesburg faithful. In contrast, he arrived at London-based club Harlequins as something of an unknown entity last season. However, the young upstart with flashy boots, a slick haircut and tattoos adorning his arms could not have been more at home at Quins.
The high-octane, attack-driven rugby played by Harlequins suited Green. He needed only one opportunity to make his mark, scoring two scintillating tries against Newcastle Falcons. After that performance Green secured his spot in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season.
With the departure of club legend Mike Brown, Green is now poised to take on the role of starting fullback in only his second season at the club. After flashes of brilliance last year, and a Premiership winner’s medal on the mantelpiece, there are already whispers of Green’s international credentials. With another full season to hone his craft, those whispers will become a chorus.
Younger in age but bigger in stature to his brother Jasper, Cobus Wiese is primed for a career-defining season. The former Stormer may not have captured the headlines in South Africa last year but has quietly emerged as a standout in a Sale pack with no shortage of behemoths.
At a shade under 2m and weighing more than 115kg, Wiese adds ballast at lock and blindside. Mix in an insatiable appetite for hard work and he perfectly fits the brief for what the Bok coaches are after.
South Africa have yet to find a definitive answer for the role of Pieter-Steph du Toit’s understudy. Neither Rynhardt Elstadt nor Jean-Luc du Preez have yet made the position their own. Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith have provided suitable stop-gap cover but in the long term it’s still anyone’s game. Another impressive season this year and Wiese could well throw his name into contention.
Andre Esterhuizen can count himself as one of the most unlucky players in South African rugby, having missed out on the 2019 World Cup and the British & Irish Lions series. The inside centre was the foremost backline player in the Premiership-winning Harlequins side last season, despite missing a number of matches due to suspension.
His physicality is self-evident, and remains his strongest attribute, however he has vastly improved his ability to distribute since joining the Premiership. Esterhuizen showed last season that he is far more than a crash-ball option.
The big inside centre last played for the Springboks during the 2019 Rugby Championship and will be desperate to earn a recall to the Bok set-up. In his previous outings in Green and Gold he has struggled to find his rhythm but as a more experienced and well-rounded player, now is his opportunity to once again push for Bok inclusion.
With Francois Steyn in the twilight of his career, there will be a big gap to fill in the Springbok midfield as backup for Damian de Allende. Esterhuizen stands ready to fill that gap and this coming season may prove that.
As a member of a La Rochelle side that reached the European Champions Cup and Top14 finals, Dillyn Leyds’ stock has certainly risen. The multi-faceted backline ace has experienced a career reinvigoration under the tutelage of Ronan O’Gara, recapturing the stellar form that first saw him don the Springbok jersey in 2017.
Leyds offers many of the attributes that are highly valued by the Springbok coaching staff: a strong kicking game, excellent vision in attack, resilience in the air, and an innate ability to read the game. Although not always the most flashy of players,
Leyds is similar to Willie Le Roux in his ability to create scoring opportunities for those around him. His work off the ball is often more than important that his theatrics with it.
At 28, Leyds is in the prime of his career. After a stunning debut season last year, he will look to build on firm foundations and hope that consistent strong performances are enough to catch the eye of the selectors.