It is becoming increasingly difficult to visualise a Springbok team without Sbu Nkosi in it, writes ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE.
Nkosi plays rugby with silent ferocity. Other players wear their emotions across their faces but Nkosi looks perpetually stern. A picture of intense determination. Unsmiling, uncompromising and unbelievably talented.
In what was, by the Sharks’ standards, a lacklustre affair on Saturday at Emirates Airline Park, Nkosi was the one bright spark. He put in an impressive display both on attack and defence, continuing the rich vein of form that has surely established him as the pre-eminent wing in South Africa.
For the second week in a row he made a superb defensive read to rush up on the opposition outside centre and kill an attacking play. Last week it was Stedman Gans he folded like a deck chair; this week it was the turn of Wandisile Simelane. When Nkosi hits you, you stay hit.
Equally impressive were his aerial skills. At times the match descended into a kicking battle but Nkosi acquitted himself admirably in this department, as he has all year. For the second time this season he demonstrated immense skill by taking a ball directly from the kick-off, jumping at full pace, and making a clean break.
With a deft step Nkosi beat the Lions defenders tracking across and was all but under the posts had it not been for a timely (and brave) tackle by fullback Tiaan Swanepoel. And I say brave because meeting Nkosi head-on when he’s moving at that speed is a physical challenge and then some.
When in space Nkosi has the acceleration and footwork to be devastating. When not in space he has the physicality and aggression to make some. It’s a scintillating combination.
Nkosi has had to bide his time. After initially being preferred in 2018, Rassie Erasmus favoured the combination of Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe on the wings for the World Cup. Injury curtailed his Vodacom Super Rugby campaign. Lockdown has provided its own delays. Through it all he’s been patient, but now he looks hungry.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber will need to think carefully about how he balances his back three heading into the British & Irish Lions series next year. With Kolbe probably the best player in the world at the moment, including Nkosi in the side would likely necessitate Mapimpi making way (or Willie Le Roux with Kolbe moving to fullback).
But with Le Roux so integral to the Bok’s attacking shape, and with understudy Warrick Gelant injured, it is more likely that Nkosi is competing directly with Mapimpi for a spot on the wing.
Nkosi, the man with fire in his eyes and a furrow on his brow, has been knocking on the door for some time. Next year he may kick it down.
Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images