Evan Roos is what the Springboks thought they were getting in Jasper Wiese, writes ZELIM NEL.
Wiese was largely anonymous during his time at the Free State Cheetahs, but caught the eye after moving to Leicester where he got shirty with a few blokes in the English Premiership and subsequently lounged on the naughty chair.
Rassie Erasmus has a soft spot for a hard man – as Stormers head coach, he excitedly paced the HPC sidelines during koppestamp whenever Peter Grant carried the ball within Rynhardt Elstadt’s bliksem radius. Though Elstadt is an enforcer in every sense of the word, he built a career on contributing significantly at the breakdown and lineout. This is not true, at least to the same extent, of Wiese.
The Leicester bruiser is tough and brave, but his medium-volume output is undermined by a high error rate and a wonky filter when it comes to distinguishing between playing hard and playing smart. While Wiese goes out of his way to be confrontational, his contributions on attack and defence are much the same as teammates picked to scrum or jump in the lineout.
Conversely, Evan Roos complements belligerence with levels of athleticism that would make him right at home in a Pacific Islanders pack. It’s a point underlined by his output in the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship, where the Stormers No 8 ranks as the competition’s most prodigious ball-carrier and offloader.
On their own, these aren’t reasons that would necessarily inspire Erasmus to select Roos, just like it’s debatable whether Pierre Spies would have played 53 Tests ahead of Anton Leonard, Duane Vermeulen and then Willem Alberts, had Rassie been picking the Bok team between 2006 and 2013. But what makes Roos a unique prospect is that he combines Spies-like athleticism with Vermeulen’s demeanour.
Vermeulen’s replacement is who the Boks thought they had recruited in Wiese last year when Thor was sidelined for the British & Irish Lions series. Duane, in my view, is the best Bok No 8 of the professional era to date, and his appreciation for what wins matches is what made him the de facto defence coach for the Stormers in 2015.
However, time waits for no man and Vermeulen appears to be taking his first steps down the path cut by Schalk Burger, who extended his illustrious career by reinventing himself as a link player. What is good for the player is not always good for the team, and the Boks need a world-class carrier in the back row more than a veteran passenger.
Ideally, Vermeulen discovers an untapped reserve tank of fuel and continues to boss the gainline to 2023 World Cup glory, but there are clear signs that his reputation is writing cheques his body can no longer cash.
While Wiese can make a fist of replicating Vermeulen’s physicality, Roos is a far-superior option at the base of the scrum, the tail of the lineout, in kick receipt and, arguably, over the ball.