A national camp recall for powerful centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg would make complete sense in a wider Springbok context, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As the year progresses, the possibility of the Springboks featuring in Test action this year remains about as clear as mud.
The latest reports suggest it could be Georgia and not South Africa who replace Japan in the Eight Nations, while talks around the prospects of the Rugby Championship taking place are expected to come to a head this week.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber has also mentioned more than once that it could be quite possible that his first Test in charge would only be when the British & Irish Lions take on the world champions in the series opener at FNB Stadium next year.
Yet, there is enduring hope that the Springboks will still have the opportunity to compete in six Tests during a revised Rugby Championship to finally achieve some much-needed objectives more than a year after winning the World Cup.
Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will need to ‘Boks’ clever, though, when it comes to settling on a squad should the Rugby Championship go ahead, with domestic fixtures yet to be officially confirmed, while overseas-based players are spread across the globe.
It’s likely to lead to a large squad of 40 to 50 players being grouped in a training camp when it becomes possible to gather, and it was no real surprise to hear Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond state that he expected to lose virtually his entire South African contingent.
This could mean recalls for the likes of the Du Preez brothers – Robert, Jean-Luc and Daniel – as well as Akker van der Merwe, Coenie Oosthuizen and Janse van Rensburg, who all missed out on a place in the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup squad.
The call-ups of England-based players makes particular sense when one considers they were among the first to return to action when the Premiership resumed in mid-August.
It’s these players in the UK who will be most battle hardened, and the Bok coaches may need to include far more overseas-based players than would be the case when usually giving preference to those playing in South Africa. Unfortunately, that prospect of a local competition remains more than four weeks away.
And as the Springboks cast their player net wider, it’s the consideration of Janse van Rensburg returning to the Springbok fold that should provide particular cause for excitement.
The burly midfielder was a central figure in the Lions’ golden years when the Johannesburg-based franchise reached three consecutive Vodacom Super Rugby finals, and yet he was repeatedly overlooked by former Bok coach Allister Coetzee.
Janse van Rensburg’s only Bok appearance came in a losing cause against Wales at the end of 2016, while some challenges both on and off the field had the centre self-admittedly fall into a ‘dark place’.
Realising the need for a change, Janse van Rensburg headed abroad, but his career kick-start at Sale was stalled by a serious injury and a struggle to rediscover his best form.
However, the 25-year-old has enjoyed a powerful resurgence in the 2019-20 English Premiership season, and again made a strong start since competition resumed. He currently lies fifth on the Premiership list for defenders beaten (56).
His re-emergence as a legitimate Bok contender is particularly timely when one considers that there have been questions over depth at inside centre.
Damian de Allende understandably remains the incumbent at 12, while Andre Esterhuizen has provided sturdy backup. Yet, Esterhuizen is still waiting to make his Harlequins debut after a delayed arrival at the English club.
In terms of game time, it means Janse van Rensburg could quite literally hold the inside lane, and when one considers the need to broaden the Boks’ player base at this time, the destructive former Lions midfielder should be welcomed back into the national conversation.
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