In the latest addition to our new series, DYLAN JACK identifies innovative loose forward Ryan Kankowski as one of the most underrated Springboks.
As we continue to reflect on the careers of those Springboks who were perhaps deserving of more international exposure, Kankowski is another name that comes to mind.
One of the first modern-day eighthmen, Kankowski was renowned for his athleticism and agility. He spent the better part of a decade at the Sharks after making his professional debut for the Durban-based team in the 2006 Currie Cup, eventually winning over 100 caps in his domestic career.
In a breakthrough year in 2007, Kankowski helped the Sharks get into the Super Rugby final and later earned his first Test cap against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
His best year would arguably come in 2008 as he was named as South African Super 14 Player of the Year and nominated as SA Rugby Player of the Year and Currie Cup Player of the Year. He would also continue his Test career, playing for the Springboks in the incoming tour, Tri-Nations and outgoing tour to the northern hemisphere.
However, it is telling that of his 20 Test caps, 13 came as a substitute. During this period, Pierre Spies, who offered a far more direct and physical option, was the favoured No 8 in a loose trio alongside Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brussouw.
While he played in the final Test of the 2009 series against the British & Irish Lions in Johannesburg, Kankowski would make just three more Test appearances – all of them as a substitute – in 2011 and 2012 before leaving for Japan in 2013.
For what he could bring to the game, Kankowski was certainly underutilised on the Test-rugby stage. His ability to change a game with a subtle bit of skill even got him called up to the Springbok Sevens side in 2016, as he tried to make it into their squad for the Olympic Games. As we have seen from the likes of Warren Whiteley and Ardie Savea, there is a place for more dynamic loose forwards in Test rugby.
After a short stint with the Lions in 2017, Kankowski would return to Japan with the Red Hurricanes before deciding to take a break from rugby in 2018.
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