Ahead of the opening weekend of Vodacom Super Rugby, SA Rugby magazine picks four South African backline players to watch this season.
Herschel Jantjies scored a last-gasp try for the Stormers against the Lions in round two of last year’s tournament. From there, he was backed to start regularly for the Cape side and certainly made an impression in a series of potent attacking performances. Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus brought the rookie into the squad before the Rugby Championship and picked the 23-year-old to start against the Wallabies in the opening match. Jantjies scored two tries in that fixture and then came off the bench in the subsequent clash with New Zealand to steal a five-pointer that led to a draw. Erasmus didn’t hesitate to include the youngster in his World Cup squad. At the end of 2019, Jantjies was nominated for World Rugby’s Breakthrough of the Year accolade. At the WP Rugby awards evening, he was named Back of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year.
The Sharks have a ton of talent in the backline, but can they finally find the means to become a real attacking force this season? With Curwin Bosch at 10, Lukhanyo Am at 13, and Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi on the wings, there is no shortage of firepower. That’s without even mentioning the prodigious talents of Aphelele Fassi. It’s difficult to pinpoint one player to watch, but this could be the season of Lukhanyo Am. In many ways, he was the unsung hero of the Boks’ World Cup-winning campaign. The dynamic centre has come of age and while he has proved to be a superb defender, the fast-paced Super Rugby competition will offer another opportunity for him to assert himself on attack.
Look out for youngsters such as Wandisile Simelane and Tyrone Green, who could make this a season to remember, but this nomination goes to Elton Jantjies. The 29-year-old didn’t play a frontline role for the Springboks at the World Cup, but he was still an important member of the squad who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. Back in August, Jantjies confirmed that there had been interest from several overseas clubs, but he opted to sign with the Lions for two more years, leading up to the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour. The experienced flyhalf has said he views 2020 as a fresh start, and you may well see a more mature Jantjies leading the Lions into battle.
Warrick Gelant played understudy to Springbok fullback Willie le Roux at the 2019 World Cup. The 24-year-old may receive more starting opportunities for South Africa in 2020 now that Le Roux is playing in Japan and may not be available for the whole Test season. A talented player with ball in hand, Gelant must try to impress the national selectors with a strong Super Rugby campaign with the Bulls. His improvement as a tactical kicker was evident in the 2019 tournament and he should be aiming to take further strides in this department.
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