Juarno Augustus has arrived at a crucial career crossroads as he heads to the Northampton Saints, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Augustus is a special player. He always has been.
Yet, that can also be both a blessing and a curse. Expectation – and the byproduct of pressure – has been heaped on his shoulders ever since the big loose forward scored tries at will and bullied opponents into submission at the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championship.
He was named the Junior Player of the Year following that tournament, and big things were quickly expected of the big man.
You can’t blame anyone for predicting a bright future at senior level for the barnstorming No 8 who is nicknamed after a truck, and weighs in around 115kg.
South Africans have always loved a big back rower. A bruiser who can assert his physicality and bulldoze his team on to front-foot ball with powerful ball carries.
Naturally, Augustus fit the bill, but it hasn’t quite translated into the success at senior level that was widely expected (if you can excuse the use of this word again).
At a professional level – where size and physicality also need to be complemented with some of the finer things such as sound handling, clear decision-making, mobility and work rate – there have been periods where Trokkie’s progress has stalled.
Recently, another Junior Springbok giant, JJ van der Mescht, spoke openly to SA Rugby magazine about how he had effectively been cut down to size once he stepped up to a senior level to play with the ‘big boys’.
‘It [my size] made me lazy at school because it was easy for me to do things, I didn’t put in any effort,’ Van der Mescht commented. ‘I’d make one good run and then I’d chill and then make another run.
‘So, it wasn’t challenging and once you get out of school you get a wake-up call at senior level. You’re still good but it’s another step because the okes are much bigger.
‘Strength-wise I could match the senior players but mentally I don’t think I was there. In your mind you can feel you’ve got the same strength as they do but mentally you know they’re actually stronger than you due to your mental age.’
Such honesty and insight makes for a fascinating case study, and one can only wonder if this wasn’t one element of an unexpected ‘curse’ that Augustus has also encountered.
Even more debilitating have been the untimely injuries that have left Trokkie idling on the sidelines just when his big engine was beginning to rev into higher gear.
Perhaps, more than anything though, Augustus may just need a fresh start.
Upon announcing Northampton’s recruitment, Saints coach Chris Boyd commented: ‘Juarno is already big and powerful, and we believe that if he can add the right combination of work rate, skill and game understanding to his CV, he has all the attributes he needs to thrive in European rugby.’
For other Junior Springbok and schoolboy stars such as Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez, the move to England club Sale Sharks certainly does seem to have added more all-round skills and game smarts to their play in a different environment and competition, where importance is often placed on other attributes.
At the end of the day, Augustus is only 23 years old. He’s been on the senior scene for ages, and almost every pre-season there have been countless articles written to suggest that this could be his breakthrough year. For one reason or another, an often assumed success hasn’t quite materialised.
No one is to blame. Only Augustus himself will truly know what elements have been missing in his progression to a point where he would have been spoken of as a Springbok contender.
As the young man now heads abroad, perhaps a change of pace, new conditioning programmes and different competition demands will bring out the best in him.
That is the overwhelming hope and, according to the player release statement from WP Rugby, it’s all ‘with a view to returning to Cape Town a more experienced and well-rounded player’.