SIMNIKIWE XABANISA looks at five players we should be talking about in a Springbok context but don’t want to.
One of the things that creep into the rugby watching public’s lexicon is that mythical breed of player – the one who is 'not Springbok material'.
For years poor Duane Vermeulen was damned with this faint praise until Heyneke Meyer gave him a proper go, and once he was given a chance he located what the kids call his beast mode.
Each year there is no shortage of these players deemed unworthy by the system even though they’re doing a fine job for their Super Rugby franchises.
Not to write them into the Bok squad or anything, but these are five such players …
SP Marais (Stormers fullback)
After a career which saw him play for the Kings twice, the Sharks and the Bulls, with not enough suggestion he was particularly great at what he did for a living, Marais was thinking about packing it in at the ripe old age of 28 last year. But then the Cape Town-born fullback got a call from Gert Smal to play for his beloved Stormers. The main reason we didn’t like Marais in his many other jobs was a tendency to step himself into some seriously dark alleys. This year he has reinvented himself as an uncanny offloader, which is quite a feat for a player who had as little a clue of what he would do next as his teammates did in the past. Then there are those accurate long-range penalty kicks he’s taken to nailing this year.
Dillyn Leyds (Stormers wing)
Despite being a former SA U20 player (2012), there is something about Leyds that inspires mistrust in the rugby public. It could be the Seapoint pimp appearance, maybe it is the premature dance celebration after scoring against the Bulls in 2015. Either way, the public just hasn’t taken to him. But one thing Leyds does like clockwork is create tries for his teammates (think Stormers vs Chiefs!) and score them. Some of said assists and tries are outrageous simply because as a former flyhalf he sees things other wingers can’t even conceive.
André Esterhuizen (Sharks inside centre)
At 1.94m and 112kg, Esterhuizen looks like the kind of fella who would do a roaring trade at blindside flank. In fact, his first forays as a centre for the Sharks meant not only did he take the appearance of a blunt object, he also had the creativity of one. This season, however, the 23-year-old has resisted the temptation to tuck the ball under the arm and embraced offloading and the 'novelty' of an inside centre who passes. Add his punishing defence and that booming left boot out of hand and you have a player who's better than most people think he is.
Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs, wing)
Despite being one of the stars in the 2012 World Rugby U20 Championship won by the Junior Boks, Rhule disappeared somewhat from the higher honours radar thanks to a flaky defence and general lack of consistency once he hit the senior ranks. Naturally an outside centre – he has an eye for the half-gap and the offload, and can read who to target in defence – Rhule has gone about remaking his image with consistent and all-round performances this season.
Courtnall Skosan (Lions wing)
The turnaround in Skosan’s career came from the low of having former Blues winger Frank Halai, who at 105kg to the Lions winger’s then 90kg wiped the Ellis Park turf with his opposite number. From that day, Skosan worked his backside off never to be embarrassed like that again. The result is that the Bulls 'reject' is now that rare thing in life, a winger who is uncomplicated when it comes to finishing. It helps that he has ridiculous speed, but knowing how to finish is a skill all of its own as 10 tries in 2016 and five this year (four of them in one game) suggest.
– Xanbanisa is a freelance sports writer
Photo: Thinus Maritz/Gallo Images