Damian Willemse and Frans Steyn won’t play in the first Test between the Springboks and Wales. It’s time for the coaches to pick up the phone and give Warrick Gelant a call, writes DYLAN JACK.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Springboks have lost the two players they could least afford to medium-term injuries, which will prevent them from playing in at least the first Test of the upcoming series against Wales.
Damian Willemse and Frans Steyn are vital to the Bok gameplan in the sense that they can cover multiple positions – including flyhalf – off the bench. Steyn was influential on last year’s November tour of the United Kingdom. He replaced Willemse in the first half of the Test in Cardiff and proceeded to turn in a Man of the Match performance, which included a monster penalty from inside his own half.
Willemse, meanwhile, has been in career-best form since shifting into the Stormers midfield this year. Paired with Manie Libbok and Gelant, Willemse has brought both creativity and physicality to a backline which was lacking both last year.
Willemse and Steyn both allow the Boks to execute the six-two split between forwards and backs and unleash the Bomb Squad replacement pack which has pulled them through some big games under Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus.
To replace their influence, the Springboks need someone who can act as a ‘playmaker’, has an accurate kicking game and can cover multiple positions in the backline.
There are many who fit this role. Dillyn Leyds has played fullback, flyhalf and wing in his career and has just helped La Rochelle to be crowned European champions. Kurt-Lee Arendse has torn teams to shreds from the back for the Vodacom Bulls and was involved in the alignment camps.
However, Gelant’s absence from the camps was conspicuous. The Springbok coaches need to give that call a rethink.
Why he wasn’t involved in any sort of preparation for the series is anybody’s guess. Is it because of his injury record and the fact that he has dodgy knees? The Stormers seem to have managed him through the marathon Vodacom United Rugby Championship campaign just fine and are reaping the benefits. Is it because he has reportedly turned down an offer to stay in South Africa and take up a big-money contract with Racing 92? That didn’t affect Trevor Nyakane, so it doesn’t make sense that it should him.
The Springbok coaches are clearly seeing something many South African rugby fans, and some from the UK, aren’t.
I’ve had the privilege of watching the Stormers live week after week this season and can unequivocally say that Gelant is the key cog in that backline. The Stormers were able to get past Edinburgh and into the semi-finals without Willemse because Gelant was pulling the strings, and it was no surprise he played a role in the gamechanging try just after half time.
The Stormers aren’t the same team without Gelant and they won’t be the same team when he packs his bags for Paris. Without him, they would not have beaten the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld or drawn with the Sharks at Kings Park.
Evan Roos got Rassie Erasmus tweeting after scoring the crucial fourth try in the match against Glasgow Warriors. However, Gelant made the true difference in that game when he came off the bench at half time, but there were crickets from the Bok coaches about his non-selection for the alignment camps.
Gelant brings creativity, accuracy and a pure desire to get on the ball and make things happen. If making a positive difference every time you are on the field isn’t enough to get you selected for the Springboks, then one has to wonder what is.
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