Rynhardt Elstadt has been brought back to South Africa for his particular set of skills and won’t be limited by the number on his back, writes JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.
‘There’s something about this guy. He could be the next Bakkies Botha.’
It’s been nearly a decade since Rassie Erasmus uttered these words. Back then, Erasmus was coaching the Stormers. He was talking about a player named Rynhardt Elstadt, a physical specimen who was alternating between lock and blindside flank.
Elstadt was at the centre of every on-field scuffle. The label of ‘enforcer’ was consistent even though the number on his back was not.
And yet, the name Elstadt never seemed to come up in the conversation for national selection. At least not until Erasmus – Elstadt’s former mentor at the Stormers – took charge at the Boks.
Elstadt has taken his game to the next level since swapping the Stormers for Toulouse. He played a big role in the French club’s season and was one of the standouts in the recent Top 14 final.
Now he finds himself on the brink of a first Bok cap and possibly a place in the World Cup squad.
To be clear, Elstadt is not the same player that last featured for the Stormers in 2017. He’s fought hard for a foothold in the unforgiving environment of French rugby – where enforcers are a dime a dozen – and returns to South Africa as a player that defies categorisation.
‘Rugby in the northern hemisphere is very different,’ Elstadt said when addressing the media in Johannesburg. ‘It’s forced me to evolve and hopefully anything I’ve learned up there can be passed on to the players in the Bok squad.
‘It was difficult to adjust when I got there. Learning the language was tough. However, I found that after I grasped the language a few doors opened for me.’
Erasmus had been keeping an eye on Elstadt’s progress. When it was first suggested through a report in the media that Elstadt was set for a recall, the question was rightly asked. Why should South Africa – with all its resources and a host of flank options – recall an uncapped player from Europe?
Which led to a new question. Does the 29-year-old in fact offer something different?
Elstadt wore the No 7 jersey while playing for Toulouse. In Europe and Australasia, that number is reserved for the openside flank.
Elstadt is the first to admit that he’s no Richie McCaw or David Pocock. Why then would you need an opensider with a preference for physicality?
‘I think that a lot of people are making a fuss about nothing,’ Elstadt said when he was asked about his transition from blindside to openside.
‘I’m not what you would call a fetcher. My job is to arrive first and secure the ball at the breakdown. If I do my job, hopefully it sets the platform to attack from the next phase.’
Elstadt still looks like he wouldn’t be out of place in the Bok second row. Erasmus said on Wednesday that the selection of Elstadt, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Francois Louw in the loose trio – as well as a physical tight five – should provide the side with front-foot ball against the Wallabies.
It may appear as if players like Elstadt and Louw have been picked to slow the game down. Erasmus, however, suggested that a more physical forward pack would make for a more high-tempo attacking showing at Ellis Park.
Elstadt admitted that he will have to adapt quickly.
‘A game against the Aussies will demand a step up. The Top 14 is slower in terms of pace, but the collisions are harder.
‘I’ve been working hard over the past two weeks with the Boks to adapt. Hopefully I will make the adjustment on Saturday.
‘This is a great honour to get a chance with the Boks,’ he added. ‘I will do the best I can to put the Boks into a position to win.’
Photo: Christiaan Kotze/Backpage Pix