Wandisile Simelane is in the stage of his career where potential needs to be realised and talent needs to meet temperament, writes DYLAN JACK.
Reports have emerged that Simelane has been spotted in Durban as his representatives negotiate a move away from Loftus Versfeld. It will take more than a change of scenery from city to coast for the 25-year-old to finally realise his immense potential.
According to the South African, the proposed deal would see Simelane join the Sharks from the Vodacom Bulls on an initial short-term loan deal, with hopes that it could become permanent, once his current contract expires next year.
The move makes sense for all parties involved.
Having joined the Bulls from local rivals the Lions in 2022, Simelane has seen just five minutes of game time across six rounds this season.
This comes after he was rotated away from his preferred outside centre position and across the outside backs last season, as Jake White understandably tried to develop him into a utility back, to give him more of a chance of getting selected for the Springboks.
While he has kept his head down and put his shoulders to the task, Simelane has struggled to make it work and is trapped behind a plethora of talent in the Bulls backline.
Stedman Gans is enjoying his best-ever start to a Vodacom URC campaign, while World Cup winner Canan Moodie has returned and from this season will start seeing more action in midfield, as the Springboks view his future at outside centre.
Away from those two, the Bulls can also look to utility backs David Kriel, Marco Jansen van Vuren and Henry Immelman, as well as veterans Lionel Mapoe and Cornal Hendricks for further support in midfield.
With White’s charges enjoying the best start of the local teams to the Vodacom URC, winning four out of six games, it makes little sense to hold onto a player who currently is desperate for on-field time, not that Simelane has created any sort of fuss.
The Sharks, meanwhile, are lighter in midfield than what meets the eye. Lukhanyo Am has returned to action and taken back the captaincy, which will make it difficult for Simelane to supplant the Springbok.
However, given the SA Rugby player management protocol, Am won’t be able to carry the No 13 burden for the full season and, new signing Diego Appollis aside (who has yet to make his URC debut), most of the alternatives at Kings Park are either better at inside centre or primarily wings.
With all that said, Simelane will need more than just a switch from the streets lined with jacarandas to Durban’s sunny beaches to get his engine fully revving again.
White is right when he says that Simelane’s best chances of getting picked for the Springboks are as a utility back.
Under Rassie Erasmus, a premium has been placed on backs who can play in multiple positions, given the ‘Bomb Squad’ tactic that has so often come up trumps in the most important Test matches over the past five years, including both World Cup finals.
However, at this stage, Simelane needs not only as many minutes as he can get, but he also needs to fully embrace whichever role is handed to him, be that at centre or even as a fullback/flyhalf-type playmaker.
Playing behind a Springbok-infused pack, the kind that can match any in the tournament, there is every reason we could still see the best of Simelane.