CRAIG LEWIS looks at six promising players worth keeping an eye on this Super Rugby season.
Curwin Bosch (Sharks)
The talented teenager enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2016, progressing from Varsity Shield rugby to end the year as the Sharks’ first-choice fullback in the Currie Cup, which saw him play 620 minutes out of a possible 640.
Still just 19-years-old, it remains to be seen what sort of role has been envisioned for the youngster in what will be his first Super Rugby season, but he certainly demonstrated enough encouraging signs last year to suggest he is ready to make the step up to the next level.
The Sharks’ No 15 jersey has been left vacant following the departure of Willie le Roux, with Frenchman Clemont Poitrenaud coming in primarily to provide mentorship to a player such as Bosch.
Ruan Ackermann (Lions)
During the Lions’ highly impressive Super Rugby campaign last year, it was the likes of Ruan Combrinck, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Warren Whiteley, Franco Mostert and Malcom Marx who won many plaudits as the team progressed to the final.
However, Ackermann was one of the players who flew relatively under the radar, but certainly proved that he is a player with immense talent and is clearly cut from the same cloth as father and coach Johan.
The talented 21-year-old offers valuable versatility with his ability to slot in at flank, No 8 or even lock, and could well have a more frontline role to play in his second Super Rugby season.
Seabelo Senatla (Stormers)
There is sure to be plenty of interest in the sevens speedster’s transition to 15s, and whether he is able to successfully translate his success with the Blitzboks into the longer format of the game.
Senatla is set to feature in the next two tournaments of the World Rugby Sevens Series before joining the Stormers in February, where he will be hoping to be able to win a place on the wing.
The 23-year-old boasts all the raw talent and pace to suggest he could make a success of 15s, but it will be interesting to see how he copes with the physical and defensive demands.
Jamba Ulengo (Bulls)
The talented winger was one of the few bright stars to shine on the South African rugby landscape last year, with his blistering pace adding plenty of X-factor to the Bulls' backline.
His form eventually saw him earn a call up to the national squad, where he debuted on the wing in the Boks' final Test of the year against Wales.
Ulengo is sure to start as one of the Bulls' first-choice wingers this year, where his combination with fullback Warrick Gelant could provide plenty of fireworks again.
Ox Nche (Cheetahs)
Nche was deservedly named the 2016 SA Currie Cup Player of the Year after a superb season with the Cheetahs during their unbeaten domestic campaign.
The talismanic prop particularly caught the eye with his impressive ball-carrying ability, and now he will be looking to make a consistent impression on the Super Rugby stage, while ensuring he successfully performs his primary role at scrum time.
The athletic 21-year-old does appear to have a bright future ahead of him, and will be looking to build on the confidence gained last year when he made his senior debut at both Super Rugby and Currie Cup level.
Chris Cloete (Kings)
There wasn’t much for Kings fan to get excited about on their disappointing return to Super Rugby last year, but one player who enhanced his reputation was 25-year-old Cloete.
The strongly-built flanker combined with CJ Velleman to great effect, with the duo particularly making their presence felt at the breakdown.
It was a big blow for the Kings when the pair were ruled out with serious knee injuries in the second half of the season, but while Velleman will only be back in April, Cloete should be ready for the start of the season.
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