While Makazole Mapimpi must be viewed as the sudden favourite to wear the Boks’ No 11 jersey at the World Cup, there are many in-form wingers who won’t make the trip, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
In 2016 the Springboks tried to strain the last bit of rugby out of Bryan Habana’s aging body, while the search for an an heir-apparent to the great left-wing’s crown was still on the go.
But three years later the South African wing stocks are full, with a variety of players with different styles and threats coming through. There are players with speed and intelligence. There are ball-players and steppers, and those who are good in the air.
In a pool of top performers, Mapimpi has stood out with his wonderful all-round displays, and as a player who has taken his game to whole new level over the last 12 months.
In 2018, ahead of the Boks’ Rugby Championship campaign, coach Rassie Erasmus praised Mapimpi’s improvement as a player who has added a top defensive skillset, such as his ability to compete at the breakdown, to his electrifying attacking game.
‘He [Mapimpi] will be the first guy to put up his hand and admit that there were certain technical areas where he previously struggled, like with the high ball and certain defensive systems,’ Erasmus said.
‘But hell, I must say, if I must rank players in the 35-man squad who have improved the most, Makazole is undoubtedly No 1.
‘If there were certain aspects of his game that were three or four out of 10, they’re now closer to eight or nine. Add that to his already fine attacking game, he scores tries and he’s got tremendous X-factor with the ball in hand.’
Mapimpi is not yet at the level of Habana, but showed this past weekend that he has added that extra dimension to his game. No longer is he only lethal as a finisher, but also as a guy who reads the game well and more than holds his own at the breakdown in the wide areas, which is something the Boks have lacked in the past.
But Mapimpi isn’t the only wing in good form, with a number of top performances this past weekend in Vodacom Super Rugby. However, many of these players will unfortunately not make Erasmus’ World Cup squad, but could benefit from a rotation policy, as the Boks are likely to rest a number of their best players for the away matches in the Rugby Championship.
Springboks S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi had a slow start to their respective Super Rugby campaigns, but have begun to reach that crescendo ahead of the business end of the campaign.
Mapimpi, Nkosi and Dyantyi, as well as France-based Cheslin Kolbe, who will probably also cover fullback in Japan, are likely to go to the World Cup. The rest will have to watch it on television.
Dillyn Leyds has been outstanding for the Stormers this year, especially from broken play situations. Leyds has a fantastic rugby brain and those around him have benefited from his playmaking abilities.
His wing partner this past weekend, Sevens legend Seabelo Senatla, also produced his best performance in a Stormers jersey this year. He was unlucky not to get a couple of tries against the Highlanders with his anticipation and blistering pace. More game time after various injuries has certainly helped his cause.
The Lions’ Courtnall Skosan, who broke into the Springbok set-up in 2017 following a top Super Rugby campaign, is also slowly getting back to his best after suffering quite a number of injury setbacks over the last few years.
The Vodacom Bulls’ Cornal Hendricks and Rosko Specman are also playing great rugby. Hendricks’ return to top-flight rugby is the stuff of fairy tales, while Specman’s explosive play has definitely put him into the Springbok conversation.
Unfortunately everybody can’t go. Mampimpi, though, has all but secured his ticket to Japan.
*Read about Mapimpi’s journey to the top in the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix