JON CARDINELLI looks at five uncapped players who have impressed in the early stages of 2015 and should be considered for Heyneke Meyer's World Cup squad.
Earlier this week, our New Zealand counterparts at Fairfax Media published a list of five possible bolters for the All Blacks' World Cup squad. Senior writer Marc Hinton felt that the uncapped quintet of Brad Weber (Chiefs), Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ardie Savea (both Hurricanes), as well as Lima Sopaga and Waisake Naholo (both Highlanders) could be in the national side before long. One or more of these players may well force their way into the 31-man group that travels to the global tournament in September.
While South Africa's teams have not fared as well as those of New Zealand in the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, the form of certain players has given locals a reason to smile. A number of established Springboks have made consistent contributions, and more than a few uncapped players have caught the eye.
Last month, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer selected two extended squads for training camps to be staged in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively. Meyer included as many as 19 uncapped players in the combined group of 44, and stated that the door to World Cup selection is by no means closed.
Using that group as a starting point, and considering the form of the uncapped players in this year's Super Rugby tournament, one can assume there may be a surprise or two when the World Cup squad is announced in August. Here are five uncapped players who are pushing hard for national, and possibly World Cup, selection.
STEVEN KITSHOFF (Stormers)
The Stormers scrum has been in commanding form this season, and it hasn't surprised one to see Meyer inviting five of the Cape franchise's front-rankers to the Bok training camps. Loosehead Kitshoff and tighthead Vincent Koch have been especially impressive, both at the set piece and around the park. Of course, one has to consider how many experienced tighthead options are at Meyer's disposal (Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen, as well as the versatile Trevor Nyakane). Koch may miss out on World Cup selection as a result. There may be room for another loosehead, though, now that Gurthrö Steenkamp has retired. Nyakane may go to the World Cup as a utility prop, and perhaps it will fall to Kitshoff to provide specialist cover for first-choice loosehead Beast Mtawarira.
JESSE KRIEL (Bulls)
It's hard to believe that Jürgen Visser started at fullback ahead of this exciting talent at the start of the season. Since receiving his chance, Kriel has made the most of it. Opposition teams now think twice before kicking on the Bulls' back three, as Kriel has the pace, vision and confidence to launch some telling counter-attacks. Kriel first trained with the Boks during the 2014 Rugby Championship, and Meyer marked him as a promising player who will come into his own after the 2015 World Cup. And yet, Kriel has made a big impact in his first season for the Bulls, and proved he belongs at this level. If he continues on his current course, Kriel may be difficult to ignore.
LIONEL MAPOE (Lions)
Mapoe was once tipped as South Africa's next big thing, and during the early stages of his career there were as many as three big unions fighting for his signature. It's taken some time for him to realise his potential, and at the age of 26 he is finally playing his best rugby at outside centre for the Lions. It's a position in which the Boks don't have a lot of options. At the time of writing, there's still uncertainty about the involvement of midfielders such as Jean de Villiers, Frans Steyn and Jaque Fourie at the World Cup. The failed experiment of playing JP Pietersen at No 13 at the Sharks may also force Meyer to consider a specialist like Mapoe for the World Cup squad.
RUDY PAIGE (Bulls)
At a glance, it would seem the Boks are well stocked with experienced scrumhalves (Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar and Cobus Reinach). However, the man in form at present is the Bulls No 9. Paige has produced some decisive and clinical showings from the base of the ruck this season, and is one of the few South Africa-based scrumhalves who can pass as well as he kicks. His combination with Bulls and Bok No 10 Handré Pollard has been a highlight, and the success of that partnership may influence the Bok World Cup selectors. if there are any injuries to the scrumhalves listed above, then Paige becomes a real, and exciting, option.
SEABELO SENATLA (Stormers)
It may seem a left-field suggestion, but the more you think about, the more it makes sense. Senatla made his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers in 2014, and the only reason he hasn't played more for the Cape side over the past two seasons is because of commitments to the Springbok Sevens side. Senatla has competed against the world's best in the seven-man code, and won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. On the back of that success, Senatla went on to play a key role for Western Province in their Currie Cup-winning campaign. The gifted runner is another player who has been identified by Meyer and company as somebody with a bright Test future. If he gets an opportunity in the coming Rugby Championship, he may prove the future is now.
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