In the second part of a new series, DYLAN JACK identifies magician fullback Gio Aplon as one of the most underrated Springboks.
In this new content series, we reflect on the careers of those Springboks who may have been unappreciated for what they could bring to a team. Aplon earned just 17 Test caps for South Africa, but an argument can definitely be made that he deserved better backing at the hight of his career.
Weighing in at around 80kg, Aplon was most certainly underestimated during an era in Test rugby when behemoth wings such as the All Blacks’ Julian Savea were considered the future.
Yet, it remains true that even during this time, Aplon was an incredibly gifted attacking player with the heart of a lion. He was in a league of his own when it came to a counter-attacking threat and incisive running lines.
His best performances in a Springbok jersey came under Peter de Villiers in 2010 and 2011. Who can forget his man-of-the-match performance against France in Cape Town?
The first of his two tries on that day – his very first in a Bok jersey – illustrated everything you needed to know about Aplon as an attacking threat. Running an excellent line on to a pass from scrumhalf Ricky Januarie, Aplon shrugged off an attempted tackle from Maxime Mermoz and sidestepped Morgan Parra to score. It was a moment Springbok fans would have hoped to see more of Aplon on the Test scene.
While Aplon played for the Springboks in the 2011 World Cup, he would make only one more Test appearance when Heyneke Meyer took charge in 2012. After being told he was too small for Test rugby, Aplon played a further two years for the Stormers before leaving South Africa for Grenoble in 2014.
As it has happened, Aplon’s absence made the heart grow fonder. His exploits in France, and then Japan, have led to questions over what could have been if he had been backed in similar vein as Cheslin Kolbe was by Rassie Erasmus, who incidentally brought Aplon back into the international fold in 2018.
Kolbe’s rise has certainly changed opinions – at least in a South African sense – over the role of smaller players in Test rugby.
Now back in South Africa with the Vodacom Bulls, the 37-year-old Aplon will be guiding the next generation of speedsters, who much like him, will be hoping to prove that it’s the ability of a player and not his size that truly matters.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images