Wiese morphs into a colossus

Since joining Leicester Tigers, Jasper Wiese has become the standout forward not just in his team but in the Premiership at large. Higher honours beckon, writes ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE.

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In November 2020, Jasper Wiese stepped off a plane to be greeted by the inclement wind and rain that typifiy English winters. He had made the decision (as so many do) to leave the Cheetahs and further his career abroad. Swapping one team of big cats for another, he committed to playing for the Leicester Tigers.

Wiese was an unknown quantity, then. One more name in the extensive and ever-growing list of South African back-row forwards plying their trade abroad. He had not played U20 rugby for South Africa and wasn’t contracted at a so-called ‘Big Four’ franchise. This was enough for swathes of South African supporters to dismiss him.

Wiese stepped off that plane in November with no fanfare, no hype and tempered expectations.

Few could have predicted that merely four days after meeting his new teammates, Wiese would be thrust straight into the starting lineup for the Tigers’ opening-round match. Fewer still could have predicted the impact he would come to have in that game.

73 metres gained. Six defenders flattened. And a win for a Tigers side that finished dead last the previous season. Leicester had found their new talisman …

In the eight rounds of Premiership rugby so far this season, it’s unsurprising that Wiese has not been dislodged from the Tigers starting lineup. He has repaid his coaches’ faith with interest.

The 25 defenders Wiese has beaten and the 401m he’s gained this season are the highest stats of any forward in the competition. They are also in the top three overall. In the previous two rounds, Wiese topped the table for the number of carries by any player. He is nothing short of an attacking sensation.

At 110kg and 6-foot-2, it’s easy to see why Wiese is such a physical force, but there’s more to it than that. Plenty of players are big, not all are effective. It’s Wiese’s mentality, shared by many South Africans, that truly sets him apart.

His philosophy on rugby is as uncomplicated as it comes but is the bedrock for his success: ‘When you go up against a guy and you try to take him down, it’s you against him. It’s personal.’

Wiese’s trademark physicality wasn’t always a feature of his game, though. When he started at the Cheetahs he weighed in at only 90kg. His power is something that has come with time. At 25 years of age, he may just be coming into his own.

Some may even quietly draw comparisons between Wiese and another former Cheetahs eighthman. This player also began his career as a lighter, rangier back rower. As he progressed he, too, became increasingly defined by his power. By 2019, he had played 50 times for South Africa and lifted the Rugby World Cup after a man-of-the-match display in the final.

While many will dismiss any comparisons between Jasper Wiese and Duane Vermeulen as decidedly premature, I’m more circumspect. It is worth remembering that Vermeulen’s success for the Boks also came relatively late in his career. ‘Thor’ only received his first cap at the age of 26.

Should Wiese continue with his quality performances this season, there is every reason to place lofty expectations on his shoulders. Surpassing the host of others all clambering for a Springbok jersey will be no mean feat, though.

He will not be able to rely on his physicality alone and will need to develop skills at the breakdown and on defence to make him a more rounded player. But the talent is undoubtedly there. So, too, is the potential.

At the intersection of talent and intent may lie a future Springbok great. Time will tell.

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