Paying it forward

Veteran players from Europe can boost the development of South Africa’s future stars, writes former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers in the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine.

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All four of the South African franchises were hit by the player exodus at the end of the 2019 season. Three of the teams, however, have since acquired the services of experienced Test players who have the potential to add value as peer-to-peer coaches.

The response to these signings has been poorly received in some sectors of the public and media. Some have asked why the franchises have recruited these older players when South African rugby has so many talented youngsters who need to be backed and developed.

The answer, of course, is in the question, as these veterans could have a key role to play in nurturing South Africa’s stars of tomorrow.

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Former British & Irish Lions and Wales centre Jamie Roberts will play a dual role at the Stormers. In one sense, Roberts could be viewed as a like-for-like replacement for Bok No 12 Damian de Allende, who is now playing in Japan. Roberts knows what it takes to win the battle at the gainline and to put his team into good attacking positions.

I don’t think Roberts has been recruited to play every game, though, and I’m sure he will be tasked with helping younger centres such as Rikus Pretorius and Dan du Plessis.

Jannie du Plessis moved to the Lions after a lengthy stint at French club Montpellier. Before that, he was a regular for the Sharks and won some big titles and series with the Boks, including the 2007 World Cup.

The Lions pack has been hit hard, with Bok hooker Malcolm Marx one of the more recent departures. They will benefit from
the presence of a proven performer.

What’s more, the younger props at the franchise will have the chance to learn from a former Bok tighthead. Scrummaging is a technical and specialised area of the game. Former Bok flank Willem Alberts was also confirmed as another signing in late January.

The Bulls have welcomed back Juandre Kruger and Morne Steyn, who were based in Wales and France respectively. The Bulls have lost a number of world-class forwards – Bok No 5 Lood de Jager chief among them – and could certainly benefit from Kruger’s ability to organise the lineout.

The importance of the set phases should not be underestimated at that level of the game, and every one of the South African teams should be going all out to win those battles.

Some have complained about Morne’s return to the Bulls at a time when Manie Libbok appears set to make the Bulls No 10 jersey his own. I believe Morne’s presence and input will help Libbok realise his full potential as a flyhalf.

Morne may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he was key to many Bok successes – such as the series victory against the British & Irish Lions in 2009 – and boasts a wealth of rugby knowledge.

The same applies to Josh Strauss, who represented Glasgow and Scotland before moving back to South Africa. He will be tasked with filling the void left by Duane Vermeulen and mentoring the younger loose forwards.

One shouldn’t underestimate the impact of peer-to-peer coaching on a young player. The recruitment of these veterans will strengthen the franchises and aid the development of South Africa’s future stars.

Photo: Ziyaad Douglas/Gallo Images