• Future of Springbok rugby (front row)

    In the sixth and final instalment of a series, DYLAN JACK looks at players aged 23 and younger with the potential to provide the spine of a future Springbok side.

    For clarity, I have split the players into the positions they would most likely play for the Boks as well as into sub-categories.

    ‘Current contenders’ are those players knocking on the door for Springbok selection, with ‘future prospects’ those still to break into their provincial side but who are still well worth investing in and keeping an eye on.

    Conventional wisdom when it comes to front rowers – especially props – contends that they only hit their prime years closer to 30. With this thinking in mind, their aren’t too many U23 hookers and props who are ready to be thrown into Test rugby just yet.

    It is a good thing, then, that the Springboks remain well stocked in this area for the next three years.

    Beast Mtawarira’s retirement brings an opening at loosehead prop. Steven Kitshoff has been playing under Mtawarira for a number of years now and should be to become the Boks’ first choice in this position. Then there is Ox Nche, who has taken his game up a notch since joining the Sharks from the Cheetahs, as well as Vodacom Bulls loosehead Lizo Qoboka and the Lions’ Dylan Smith.

    On the opposite side of the scrum, the Boks still have the services of trusty workhorse Frans Malherbe, who at 29 years old, is still in his prime years as a tighthead. The Springboks’ other World Cup tightheads – Trevor Nyakane (31) and Thomas du Toit (25) – already have plenty of experience and are useful options as ‘swingers’ who can play at loosehead as well. Meanwhile, Wilco Louw should benefit from a move to Harlequins and will certainly see more starting opportunities in England.

    At hooker, it is easy to forget that Malcolm Marx is set to turn 26 this year – given that he has already won 33 Test caps. Marx is set for a permanent move to Japan after cancelling his Lions contract – but will still be available for Springbok selection. Given Bongi Mbonambi’s injury and Schalk Brits’ retirement, there were at least two positions open at hooker for the July Tests (which have now been postponed). One of those was set to go to Joseph Dweba, whose impressive form for the Cheetahs has earned him a move to France with Bordeaux.

    Tighthead prop

    The standout U23 option at tighthead remains Lions player Carlu Sadie. The 23-year-old sealed a permanent move to Johannesburg and has been able to learn from World Cup-winner and veteran former Bok Jannie du Plessis. If Sadie can continue his growth as it is, a place in a Springbok squad is inevitable.

    Below Sadie, there are a number of talented players who could come through. Sadie’s Lions teammate Asenathi Ntlabakanye is a solid scrummager, yet surprisingly mobile and destrictive with ball in hand despite his size. He was particularly impressive for the Junior Springboks last year and could come through at the Lions in the next couple of years.

    Michael Kumbirai may have turned 24 this year, but is still a promising option and will hopefully see more game time at the Sharks, who also have Kutha Mchunu and Hanru Jacobs coming through.

    Current Contenders: Carlu Sadie.
    Future prospects: Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Sazi Sandi, Michael Kumbirai, Kutha Mchunu, Hanru Jacobs, JP Smith, Keagan Glade.

    Hooker 

    As usual, South Africa’s franchises have a number of talented hookers coming through the system.

    Johan Grobbelaar faces a good amount of competition to seal a place as the Bulls’ No 2, but is more than talented enough to do so. Meanwhile, the Lions have their own promising young hooker in Jan-Henning Campher, who eventually stole the starting role this season from out-of-form Pieter Jansen.

    Over in Durban, the Sharks have four players to blood below Kerron van Vuuren. The Durban franchise is intent on turning Dylan Richardson into a hooker, while they also have Fez Mbatha, Cullen van der Merwe and Jacques Goosen on their books.

    Western Province have three players to look at in Schalk Erasmus, Dan Jooste and Jason Alexander.

    Current contenders: Johan Grobbelaar.
    Future prospects: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Richardson, Fez Mbatha, Schalk Erasmus, Dan Jooste, JJ Kotze, Cullen van der Merwe, Jason Alexander, Tango Balekile, Jacques Goosen.

    Loosehead prop

    There are currently two players leading the charge for U23 loosehead props. One of them is Lions player Nathan McBeth. The 21-year-old already has a handful of Vodacom Super Rugby appearances as well as international experience, having represented Scotland and the Junior Springboks at U20 level.

    The other is Simpiwe Matanzima, whose stock shot through the roof after a breakthrough season in 2019. Matazima provided more than able backup to Lizo Gqoboka last year, looking destructive at the scrum and powerful when asked to carry. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old picked up an injury in February which kept him out of the start of the2020 campaign.

    Then there is Jan-Hendrik Wessels. The young loosehead – who only finished school in 2019 – already has a number of clubs, including the Bulls, chasing his signature after leaving the Clermont academy. At 1,9m, Wessels is fairly tall for a prop and has even been tried at lock during his schoolboy days. However, he has the physcality and skill to make an early step up to professional rugby.


    Current contenders: Nathan McBeth.
    Future prospects: Simphiwe Matanzima, Leon Lyons, Kwenzo Blose, Alulutho Tshakweni, Thabiso Mdletshe, Banele Mthenjane, Jan-Hendrik Wessels.

    Photo: Getty Images

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    Dylan Jack