Five Springbok players have been nominated in the South African Player of the Year category. Here we take a closer look at each contender.
Damian de Allende
Damian de Allende is a polarising figure, one of those players who the public loves to hate, unfortunately. De Allende wasn’t in the best of form in the Vodacom Super Rugby campaign, which just incensed the rugby public more when it became evident that Rassie Erasmus was going to persist with him in the Bok midfield. But De Allende duly repaid Erasmus’ faith in him, while simultaneously proving his naysayers wrong. He was one of the cornerstones of South Africa’s Rugby Championship and World Cup success. Defensively, De Allende was like a brick wall that not many could get through or over. Credit where it’s due, De Allende stood up and stepped up when it mattered most for the Springboks and no critic can dispute that fact.
Cheslin Kolbe has produced one otherworldly performance after another for both club and country in 2019. And if it hadn’t been for the continued excellence of Bok teammate Pieter-Steph du Toit, Kolbe would have seen off all comers in the World Rugby Player of the Year award category. Be that as it may, Kolbe’s sensational season started out with him leaving defenders in his wake while playing for Toulouse in the French Top 14 and it ended with him leaving Owen Farrell on his backside during the World Cup final between South Africa and England. It would have been criminal to omit him from the list of nominees for this prestigious award.
Based on their performances in 2018, Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi were odds on favourites to be the Springboks’ first-choice wingers in 2019. But Makazole Mapimpi’s rise to Springbok stardom wasn’t to be denied. He scored five tries in 16 appearances for the Sharks and one for the Boks in the Rugby Championship. But at the World Cup, Mapimpi ran in six touchdowns, a feat only bettered by tournament top-scorer Josh Adams with seven. Mapimpi’s growth in the lead-up to and during the World Cup was magnificent and should be celebrated as such.
If Pieter-Steph du Toit is the heartbeat of the Springbok pack at the moment, then Duane Vermeulen is the spine. Aptly nicknamed ‘Thor’, Vermeulen has a reputation as one of the toughest players around and there is nothing to suggest that he is about to lose that status. Following his surprise move to the Vodacom Bulls at the beginning of the year, Vermeulen emerged as one of the best performing South African Super Rugby players in 2019 and carried on in the same vein when donning the green and gold jersey. Vermeulen’s importance to the Boks’ cause was best illustrated during their nerve-racking World Cup semi-final clash with Wales and in the runaway victory over England in the final, when he produced two industrious physical displays to lead South Africa to a third title. His absence will be felt in the Bulls’ ranks next year, but fortunately the Boks will still be able to call on his services.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
The lock-turned-flank has been the gold standard on the international stage this past season. No other player has come close to performing at the level Pieter-Steph du Toit has in 2019. He has been a pillar of strength for both Bok rugby and the Stormers over the last couple of seasons and what he achieved this year was only the culmination of his unmatched efforts before. The 27-year-old Du Toit plays with a total disregard for his own body and leaves every last drop of energy on the field when he does it. Du Toit was deservedly named World Rugby Player of the Year, and while it’s only fair that his above-mentioned peers be recognised by nominations in this category, it would be a travesty if PSDT does not walk away with the award.
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