Jake White has backed South Africa's forgotten man Ryan Kankowski, and could prove to be the inspiration for his Springbok return, writes RYAN VREDE.
Watch Kankowski this season. I'm backing him to surprise those who've written him off as yesterday's news. I believe he'll embarrass the opinion that he is a spent force in Vodacom Super Rugby and that his Test career is dead.
White is central to this. Kankowski had fallen out of favour with former coach John Plumtree. My understanding is the pair's relationship had become strained, with Plumtree reaching the point where he was seriously and regularly questioning the value of Kankowski's selection, certainly as a starter, while Kankowski had abandoned hope he could convince the coach otherwise.
In 2012 he signed a short-term deal to play in Japan and had been spoken about in a sevens context consistently before White took over at the Durban franchise. White had no hesitation in including including the 28-year-old in his Super Rugby squad and has subsequently started him in both their fixtures. Kankowski gave a strong return on that faith, and it seems likely he will establish himself at blindside flank, but could easily be utilised at No 8.
White has long been a fan of Kankowski's athleticism and power. He gave him his first Springbok cap in the November Test against Wales in Cardiff in 2007, lauding the youngster's form in that season's Super Rugby campaign and predicting a long international career for him. Kankowski would, however, play a limited role under White's successor, Peter de Villiers, and he never has quite kicked on from there.
There have been glimpses of his best form since, reminders of his match-winning potential, but they have been all too sporadic. Consistency has eluded him but that could change under White. Word from Durban is that White has got Kankowski in better shape than he has been for years and that his passion for the game is re-ignited. White has communicated his belief in and plan for the player, who in turn is responding with a level of performance that is a truer reflection of his appreciable talent.
Kankowski hasn't played for the Springboks since their 14-14 draw with England in Port Elizabeth in 2012. In my long professional association with Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, he has always spoken highly of Kankowski and certainly hasn't written him off. It is still premature to speak about him in absolute terms this context, but with Pierre Spies sidelined for up to six months and Duane Vermuelen certain to be played into the ground (again) by the Stormers, as well as his positional versatility, South Africa's forgotten man has every chance of injecting himself into the national consciousness once again if he proves his worth in Super Rugby.
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