DYLAN JACK looks at five South African-born players who could play a crucial role for their teams as the Six Nations gets under way this weekend.
Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)
Starting with one of the more popular South Africans, Van der Merwe’s impact on the Test scene was highly anticipated after a sensational few years with Edinburgh in the PRO14.
Van der Merwe made his first appearance for Scotland back in October 2020 and, boy, what a debut it was. The 25-year-old scored a try, made 11 carries and just over 100 metres. Van der Merwe won his second cap off the bench against Wales and then scored his second try in his third Test against Italy.
The former Junior Springbok has recently completed a move from Edinburgh to the Worcester Warriors in England and has retained his place in Gregor Townsend’s squad for the Six Nations.
Van der Merwe is likely to line up in a strong back three alongside captain and fullback Stuart Hogg and wing Sean Maitland. Saturday night’s Six Nations derby against England, where the teams will be playing for the Calcutta Cup, is a perfect place for Van der Merwe to pick up where he left off last year.
Bernard le Roux (France)
With 44 Test caps to his name, Le Roux is the most experienced member of a relatively inexperienced France pack. Le Roux should be one of the first names on France’s teamsheet after the impressive manner in which he dealt with England’s forwards in the opening match of the 2020 Six Nations.
Le Roux could likely form a destructive second-row partnership with fellow French-South African Paul Willemse, who has been in good form for Montpellier despite the club’s struggles in the Top 14.
The 31-year-old Le Roux, meanwhile, has been excellent for Racing 92 this season, making 12 appearances and even enjoying a brief spell in the back row for the team.
As much as his physicality, Le Roux’s experience and nous will be as important for a France team looking to win their first major piece of silverware after an impressive start to life under head coach Fabien Galthie.
CJ Stander (Ireland)
A cornerstone of a highly experienced Ireland team, Stander could be set for a new role in the team’s back row, due to the rise of young star Caelan Doris. The 22-year-old Doris managed to force his way into the No 8 jersey in his first Test season last year, causing Stander to shift to flank.
Doris won’t be available for the Six Nations opener against Wales, which would allow Stander to briefly return to his new position, but it is likely that when Doris is fully fit, Stander would shift back to a blindside role.
Regardless, Stander has shown that he is more than capable of owning any position in the back row. The 30-year-old, who was nominated for 2020 Six Nations Player of the Championship, will be an important player for an Ireland team looking to challenge England and France for the title.
Johan Meyer (Italy)
Italy head coach Franco Smith is very much building for the future, which is reflected in the fact that there are just four Azzurri players with more than 30 caps in the team’s Six Nations squad.
Zebre flank Johan Meyer has just nine Test caps to his name and has mostly been used as a substitute since making his debut against Ireland in Chicago in 2018.
However, he may have to make a step up this year, with Italy hit by a number of injuries, including to fellow South African Braam Steyn.
Good news for Italy is that the 27-year-old Meyer has been in good form for a struggling Zebre side this year, making 110m from 50 carries in the five PRO14 games he has played so far this season.
Jaco van der Walt (Scotland)
Fresh from signing a new deal with Edinburgh, Van der Walt will be looking to stamp his mark on the Scotland national team after a solid debut against Ireland in the Autumn Nations Cup last year.
Van der Walt will be competing with a refreshed Finn Russell for a place as Scotland’s starting flyhalf. It is likely that Russell will be preferred as the starting 10, especially in the games against England and France.
However, Van der Walt’s supporting role will be no less important, especially if he can replicate his goalkicking form of last year.
Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images