JON CARDINELLI identifies five South African youngsters who have excelled in their first full season of Vodacom Super Rugby.
JACO COETZEE (STORMERS)
Coetzee’s rabid determination at the gainline has only been exceeded by his timing and strength at the breakdown. At long last, the Stormers appear to have found a successor to Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen and Deon Fourie, the franchise’s premier ball-poachers in the early 2010s.
Would Coetzee have featured so prominently if not for injuries to loose forwards such as Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe? It wasn’t too long ago that the Stormers had Nizaam Carr on their books, and Coetzee’s game time in Super Rugby was limited to a few minutes (across the 2017 and 2018 seasons).
In 2019, the 22-year-old has been one of the Stormers’ strongest ball-carriers, with 27 tackle busts, six linebreaks and 503 metres gained. On defence, he’s made 107 tackles – with a success rate of 86% – and is ranked seventh in the tournament for breakdown pilfers.
Whether he is used at No 6 or 8, Coetzee will be an asset to the Stormers in the years to come.
APHELELE FASSI (SHARKS)
Fassi has more than lived up to the hype. Last season, he was backed to start on the wing in the Currie Cup final and went on to help the Sharks clinch the title. This year, the 21-year-old has made a successful step up to Super Rugby, lending the Sharks an attacking edge from the fullback position.
Fassi has made 589 metres and scored four tries to date. His linebreak and linebreak assist stats – five and four respectively – highlight his ability to carry, as well as create opportunities for teammates.
The Sharks have not enjoyed a great deal of attacking success in 2019. One wonders how much the side will improve in 2020 if new ideas are embraced and players such as Fassi are encouraged to fulfil their potential.
HERSCHEL JANTJIES (STORMERS)
Coach Robbie Fleck has backed Jantjies regularly since the scrumhalf helped the Stormers beat the Lions via a last-gasp try in round two. Following a series of impressive attacking performances by the 23-year-old, many are talking up his chances of making the Springboks’ World Cup squad.
Jantjies’ sniping runs from the base of the scrum and ruck have worried opposition defences. He’s made seven linebreaks and scored five tries to date.
The outstanding feature of his game, however, has been his support play. Few scrumhalves have run better lines or shown the same vision in broken play this season. Jantjies has made two try-scoring assists and four linebreak assists thus far.
CARLU SADIE (LIONS)
It’s hard to believe that Sadie was considered surplus to requirements by the Stormers at the start of the 2019 season. Since joining the Lions on loan, he’s had the chance to start regularly at No 3 and taken his scrummaging and general play to the next level.
The 22-year-old tighthead has dominated the majority of his direct opponents at the set piece. Despite tipping the scales at 125kg, Sadie has looked for work around the park and contributed with some powerful drives close to the tryline.
Props tend to come of age towards the end of their 20s. It’s encouraging to think that Sadie will improve over the coming seasons.
VINCENT TSHITUKA (LIONS)
Like Coetzee, Tshituka may not have received a chance to play Super Rugby, if not for a number of injuries to frontline players.
While the 20-year-old blindside flank still has some growing to do – expect him to add to his 103kg in future seasons – he evidently has the pace and attitude to be a force at the gainline.
Tshituka was named Man of the Match after he helped the Lions beat the Stormers in round 16. The blindside was heavily involved on attack, beating three defenders and making 59 metres on his own, and throwing seven passes and a further four offloads.
OTHERS ROOKIES WHO HAVE CAUGHT THE EYE
Johan du Toit (Stormers), Tyrone Green (Lions), Simphiwe Matanzima (Vodacom Bulls), Wandisile Simelane (Lions), Cobus Wiese (Stormers)
Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix