Sikhumbuzo Notshe will need to find his identity in the loose trio as he prepares to reignite his career in 2020 at the Sharks, writes DYLAN JACK.
In a piece earlier this week on local options to come through for the Springboks at No 8, Notshe was one of the players singled out who could challenge the overseas-based Marcell Coetzee and Dan Preez as backup and potential successor to Duane Vermeulen.
He was one of nine new players signed by the Sharks as the Durban franchise embarked on a significant player recruitment drive following a disappointing 2019 season. The loose forward has, however, endured his own lows over the last two years, which had him miss out on a place in the Springbok squad for the 2019 World Cup.
The 2018 Currie Cup final, where Notshe struggled to get into a game dominated by opposing loosies Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez, would mark the beginning of his problems. A succession of injuries would then limit his involvement in the Stormers’ 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby campaign.
Rather ironically, this came not long after Notshe told SA Rugby magazine that he was feeling at his physical and mental best, following a stint on the sevens circuit with the Blitzboks.
‘Playing sevens helped me improve my work rate, breakdown skills and tackling, because there is nowhere to hide,’ he said. ‘When I returned to the Stormers set-up before Super Rugby I was in the best shape of my life and in a great space mentally. I had been at the Stormers for five years and needed to experience something new. I came back feeling rejuvenated.’
In the same story, Notshe detailed his frustrations at being constantly moved between the 6, 7 and 8 jerseys, never really being given the time to make a position his own. It is obvious that he prefers to play at No 8, but perhaps has not shown the physicality associated with typical eighthmen, something that would attract attention from the next Springbok coach.
Notshe has represented Western Province Rugby from U13 level all the way through to Super Rugby. Perhaps a change of scenery could do him some good. The 26-year-old is also known to have a close relationship with Stormers coach John Dobson, making his decision to put his future in another coach’s hands even bolder.
It is clear that Dobson sees Juarno Augustus and Jaco Coetzee as his two first-choice options at No 8 going into the upcoming Super Rugby campaign, while he has hinted that he sees captain Siya Kolisi as more suited to the role of a No 8 than a flank.
Putting two and two together, it appears that while Notshe’s relationship with Dobson remains strong, the latter couldn’t guarantee him the game time he needed to make a push for a place in the Bok squad.
In a recent interview with Sport24, Notshe made it clear why he decided to move to the East Coast.
‘I want to get more game time,’ he said. ‘I want to spend more time on the rugby field.’
Not that things are going to get any less competitive at the Sharks.
The Durban side have lost the barnstorming Du Preez twins to Manchester, but have added former Cheetahs No 8 Henco Venter to their roster as a replacement.
The franchise already has Tera Mtembu and Junior Springbok captain Phendulani Buthelezi as alternatives in the position. Evan Roos is another who was impressive in his first year out of school in 2019 and could push for a place in the senior squad.
As a player, Notshe is as far from the Du Preez brothers that you can get. A skilful operator who can weave his way through traffic with his explosive runs and sleek sidesteps, Notshe is the Alfa Romeo to the Du Preez monster truck, looking for space rather than bashing his way through opposition defences.
But that is exactly what could make him an attractive alternative as coach Sean Everitt looks to change the Sharks culture after the stringent years under Robert du Preez.
Notshe will know that he has to make this move work, that he cannot afford to have his career stall any more than what it has and will know that he has to make small adjustments to his game if he wants to succeed at Test level and seal a permanent place at eighthman.
He most certainly has the talent and ability to restart his engine and fulfil the promise he showed as a kid on the fields of Langa.
Photo: Steve Haag/Steve Haag Sports