An insurance policy goal-kicker is a must for any World Cup campaign and the Springboks need to buy shares in the boot of Sanele Nohamba, writes DYLAN JACK.
One of the major aspects that made the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup triumph so unique was that the final was, essentially, won on tries for the first time in the professional era of the game.
When Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe became South Africa’s first try-scorers in a Rugby World Cup final, they gave the Springboks an advantage that England simply could not overcome.
Prior to this, the history of World Cup finals has been written by the goal-kickers.
In 1995, it was Joel Stransky’s extra-time drop goal that gave South Africa its first title. Four years later, fullback Matt Burke slotted a game-defining 25 points to take Australia to a 35-12 victory over France.
In 2003, Jonny Wilkinson wrote his name in England folklore with a 100th-minute drop goal and in 2007, Springbok kickers Frans Steyn and Percy Montgomery combined to down the then-defending champions.
Veteran flyhalf Stephan Donald famously came out of the blue to kick the winning penalty that gave the All Blacks their second World Cup title in 2011 and, having missed that final, Dan Carter made up for it with 19 points from his boot to help New Zealand defend their title against the Wallabies in 2015.
Long story short, it is essential for any World Cup title hopeful to have a Deadeye Dick kicking for goal.
The Springboks have Handre Pollard, the man who held his cool to slot the late match-winning penalty in the 2019 semi-final against Wales. While he has had his struggles with knee injuries since that tournament, Pollard has thankfully returned to career-best form with Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership.
However, the thing about Pollard is that he has always had the tendency to short-circuit in his goal-kicking. That nearly came back to bite the Boks in the final Test of the 2021 British & Irish Lions series, when Morne Steyn was thankfully on hand to repeat his 2009 heroics. It happened again in 2022, when Pollard missed two crucial kicks as Wales won in South Africa for the first time.
In their quest to defend the World Cup for the first time in France, the Springboks need to take out an insurance policy in the goal-kicking department.
This is where Nohamba comes in. The 24-year-old scrumhalf has been a resurgent force at the Lions since leaving the Sharks for the Lions. It took Nohamba just two games in his first full season in Johannesburg to start defining the outcome of games as he scored the winning try against Ospreys in Swansea.
It’s Nohamba’s boot, however, that gives him a point of difference among the contenders for a World Cup spot.
Funnily enough, while it’s an area where he has excelled since his days at Durban High, it has only come to the fore as recently as March, mainly due to the fact that he has spent most of his career playing alongside Curwin Bosch and Jordan Hendrikse.
The former Junior Springbok slotted five penalties and two conversions – to go with a well-taken try – in his man-of-the-match performance as the Lions grabbed a historic win at Loftus Versfeld. Since then Nohamba’s form in front of goal has helped the Lions go from winning just one game in five, to finishing their campaign with five wins in their last seven games.
When I caught up with Nohamba for a feature for SA Rugby magazine, he was keen to downplay his goal-kicking ability. But it is clear that it sets him apart from his peers.
In a recent poll run by SARugbymag.co.za, Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach came through as clear favourites for the scrumhalf spots for the World Cup, joined by Jaden Hendrikse.
It was stunning that Nohamba only got 3% of votes, given how important he has become to the Lions. While Nohamba has yet to make his Springbok debut, Herschel Jantjies showed in 2019 that a Test rookie can still be influential, if given the opportunity.
By letting De Klerk and even winger Cheslin Kolbe take attempts at goal during the November tour of Europe, the Springbok coaches showed that a back-up kicker is clearly something that the team needs.
Why not invest in someone who is used to that pressure, someone who works on his kicking regularly and someone who has shown excellent recent form in front of goal?
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images