Am: Simelane ‘really backs himself’

Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am says he is expecting big things from young compatriot Wandisile Simelane, who stands on the brink of a Test debut, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Simelane was named as the SA Rugby Young Player of the Year at the 2020 awards held in early March, and the 23-year-old has burst through to the national ranks after a series of explosive performances for the Lions.

Like many players in the extended Springbok squad, Simelane’s inclusion undoubtedly involves big-picture thinking, with the talented outside centre long viewed as one of the next-generation stars who can soak up plenty of knowledge from the likes of Am and Jesse Kriel.

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Simelane is currently one of eight uncapped players in the 46-man Bok squad, and although his international debut may not necessarily come in the upcoming series against Georgia or the British & Irish Lions, there is every chance his opportunity could arrive in the Rugby Championship or if there are any injuries.

Am, who undoubtedly remains the Springboks’ incumbent centre, told the media on Thursday that he continued to be impressed by what he saw from Simelane.

‘Wandi is a very talented player, we’ve seen it in Super Rugby and the Rainbow Cup. It’s exciting what he can do, and he really backs himself.

‘We’re looking to work together as outside backs, and as a group, we try to feed off each other. That’s something we’re doing on attack or defence. It’s about all of us trying to improve and aiming to reach our top level.’

Of course, it can’t be forgotten that Simelane got his first taste of a senior international environment when he was called up to the Green squad for the Springbok Showdown in Cape Town last October.

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‘It was unreal,’ Simelane told SA Rugby magazine soon after those national ‘trials’. ‘You got a real taste of what it takes to be a Springbok and how to prepare for a game for a national team. We used Argentina as a mock team we were playing against and we had to analyse them, which was really interesting.’

Simelane, who boasts all the attributes of a natural sportsman – which harks back to his younger days when he appeared destined for a professional football career – has been on the national radar for some time, and represented South Africa through various age-group levels.

However, he has never been closer to realising a dream of becoming a fully-fledged Test Springbok.

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Craig Lewis