Wandisile Simelane is a prime example of a player who should benefit richly from South African rugby’s new contracting model, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Saturday, Simelane made his Vodacom Super Rugby run-on debut. Some 80 minutes later, he couldn’t wipe a beaming smile off his face after bagging the Man of the Match award in the Lions’ 47-39 win over the Jaguares.
The highly-regarded centre looked comfortable and confident from the outset of Saturday’s clash. Besides racking up over 100 running metres and scoring an opportunistic try, it was really his influence in setting up the Lions’ third try that provided the strongest indication that this is a player who simply ‘has it’.
Receiving the ball on the halfway line, Simelane cut between two Jaguares defenders, and while in contact still managed to send a basketball-like pass away to a teammate in space.
It was a moment of magic that wouldn’t have surprised those who know Simelane well. Ever since working his way through the Lions’ ranks, the talented youngster has been earmarked as a talent to watch.
After producing a sequence of eye-catching performances for the Junior Boks last year, SA Rugby magazine caught up with his high school director of sport from Jeppe to gain further insight.
‘Everyone who worked with Wandi during his formative years knew he was going places,’ Brendan Gittins commented. ‘He has always shown a higher level of tactical and technical maturity than his peers, and a greater appreciation of the laws. And now that he has the physical stature to complement his ability to break the line and beat people one-on-one, he’ll become even more destructive.’
It’s a piece of astute inside information about a player who boasts all the attributes of a natural sportsman, harking back to his younger days when he appeared destined for a professional football career.
Of course, it’s important to be wary of building too much early hype around a newcomer who is only about to celebrate his 21st birthday, but he is the sort of candidate South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus must have in his crosshairs for the long term.
Last week, Erasmus fronted up to the media for the first time this year and provided further insight into the new contracting model, devised with the aim to re-prioritise expenditure with a greater focus on capturing the next generation of talent.
Erasmus and the upper hierarchy at SA Rugby have realised that it is no longer financially sustainable to spend a fortune on the top tier of Springboks, effectively in competition with inevitably lucrative offers from overseas clubs.
Instead, a ranking system will be put in place as part of a succession plan aimed at rather filtering the ‘saved finances’ into rewarding and retaining those second, third and fourth-choice players in South Africa who have been earmarked for future success.
It’s about broadening the player base from the bottom up, and it’s youngsters of the calibre of Simelane who should surely benefit under the new system to come into place from next year.
There is no doubt that outside centre is Simelane’s best position. That’s also key in the context of the South African rugby landscape, when one considers that it has really been a problem position ever since Jaque Fourie’s heyday came to an end.
In the current pecking order at 13, you’d surely find Lukhanyo Am, closely followed by Jesse Kriel, and then Lionel Mapoe. Yet, bearing in mind that Mapoe will turn 31 later this year, it’s a next-generation star such as Simelane who will be very much on the radar.
It’s an exciting time for young players in South Africa as the move begins towards investing in talent for the future. Simelane is just one of those rising stars who could, and should, become a worthy benefactor.
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