SA Rugby Preparation Cup XV – Players With a Point to Prove
By BET Contributor
While the Preparation Cup’s initial objective is to serve as preparation for the Vodacom Bulls, Cell C Sharks, Emirates Lions and the Stormers’ Rainbow Cup campaign, it also doubles up as an opportunity for the smaller unions to prove once again, that they can compete with the ‘big boys’. But it doesn’t end there, as it also affords the players who have often found themselves on the periphery of team selection for the big four unions, with an opportunity to prove their credentials to their respective teams coaching staffs, ahead of a maiden season up north.
Here is Bet Central’s pick of the 15 players who have the biggest point to prove during the Preparation Cup.
15: Keanu Vers (EP Elephants)
A left field inclusion to many, except for the most devoted followers of schoolboy rugby. Vers was once spoken of in the same vein as the likes of school and provincial teammates Junior Pokomela, Jeremy Ward and Curwin Bosch, and like many a talent of his age group, decided to remain loyal to his province and sign with the EP Kings academy after high school. A serious schoolboy prospect, the utility back took the 2014 Craven Week by storm, earning SA Schools selection in the process. His stock would only rise, with his Currie Cup U19 triumph with the EP Kings U19’s earning him a call up to the SA U20 side in 2016, vindicating his decision to stay in the province.
He would go on to graduate swiftly into the senior ranks, playing 22 times for the EP Kings between 2016-2018, before his career took a plunge during a brief spell with the Griquas. The now 25-year-old has since resurfaced at the new look EP Elephants and provides an exciting and experienced option to call on. He is now at the stage in his career where he needs to prove that he was more than just a brilliant junior player, and will be hoping to get his chance to impress during the Franchise Cup and remind everybody exactly why they should not forget about him again.
14: Madosh Tambwe (Bulls)
Represented a massive coup for the Sharks when he signed to further bolster their already impressive wing ranks last year, from the Lions. However, after an encouraging start, he failed to get enough opportunities to replicate his try-scoring exploits upon the resumption of rugby. Furthermore, the signing of Yaw Penxe surprisingly relegated Tambwe further down the pecking order.
Therefore, it is perhaps no surprise that on the day the Sharks announced the extension of Penxe’s deal, he was announced as a new Bulls signing. White has already signalled his intent to use the powerfully built speedster extensively, and it will now be up to the try-scoring machine to use the Franchise Cup to show the Sharks what they missed out on, as well as repay White for the faith he has shown in him.
13: Manuel Rass (Lions)
The highly rated 22-year-old is another player who was expected to already be a household name, however, injuries have really hindered the Somerset West-born centres progress. He returned in the Lions opening round win over the Pumas, and will no doubt be hoping to finally string together the amount of matches that can see him rediscover the promise and potential he displayed as a schoolboy.
Rass represented SA Schools two years in a row in 2015-16 before playing for the SA U20 win side in 2018 and will be hoping to challenge former national teammate Wandisile Simelane for the Lions number 13 jersey through impressive performance during the Franchise Cup
12: Diego Appollis (Bulls)
The bulky and abrasive 20-year-old rose to prominence after an impressive schoolboy career earned him a highly publicized and controversy-filled move to the Bulls. On the field, there hasn’t been as much clamour about his progress, but the former Gasfontein scholar has been doing just that. He has already featured for the union at Supersport Rugby Challenge level and while many would’ve expected to see him make his breakthrough by now, it might just prove to be a case of “better late than never” for the inside centre as he found himself on the bench in the Bulls opening round 87-10 slaughtering of the EP Elephants.
He will be hoping to finally get his chance from the start as the tournament progresses, and will be hoping to remind everybody what the initial hype was about, as well as White that he has a readymade competitor for Cornal Hendricks’ place.
11: Sibahle Maxwane (Lions)
It came as a surprise to many when the Komani-born flyers contract wasn’t renewed by the Cheetahs last year, as he had developed into a lethal try scorer for them over the years. However, what would prove even more surprising was how under-utilized the 25-year-old was at his new franchise the Lions. He, however, re-emerged in the Johannesburg-based unions starting lineup for their opening round victory over the Pumas.
Touted by many as a player who could enter the Springbok winger conversation, with his move to the Lions meant to cement that, he will be hoping that more starts in this competition will remind people of the reasons he was part of that conversation to begin with. “Rabz” could prove to be an asset for the Lions heading to the Rainbow Cup, with his experience up north with the Cheetahs still fresh in his memory.
10: Kade Wolhuter (Stormers)
The exceptional talents of the teenager were already highlighted by the large uproar and outcry from South African schoolboy rugby lovers and followers, when the 19- year-old was left out of the SA Schools side in 2019, after an exceptional Craven Week. It would later emerge that his snub was connected to his initial decision to pursue his rugby career in France. However, his return to the country last year coincided with him regaining favour within the South African rugby system, with a late injury replacement call up to fellow Stormers prospect Mnombo Zwelendaba, affording Kade the rare opportunity of an introduction to Rassie Erasmus’ national set up.
Highly rated and touted to be a Springbok, the Stormers/Western Province have so far shown their faith in him, and that they are willing to give him every chance possible to maximize his potential. With Damian Willemse often producing indifferent form at 10, Kade will back himself to usurp Tim Swiel soon and emerge as the top challenger to Willemse, and if he continues to be backed from the start during this Franchise Cup it will surely only be a matter of time till he proves his credentials at senior level too.
9: Grant Williams (Sharks)
At 24, the former Paarl Gimnasium scholar is the senior scrumhalf at the Sharks. However, the rapid emergence of former junior internationals Sanele Nohamba and Jaden Hendrikse has seen Williams relegated to third choice. Having been there for longer and seen experienced scrumhalves he understudied leave the Shark tank, he would’ve expected to assume the Sharks number nine jersey, but now finds himself at an age which makes his situation at the union a little more delicate.
Williams, however, was given the nod ahead of Hendrikse for the Sharks opening round game of the tournament, in what would prove to be a big boost for his confidence. Now, whether that will change going forward, remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, the Franchise Cup represents the Western Cape native with his best chance of proving his worth at the Sharks and earning a longer stay.
8: Phendulani Buthelezi (Sharks)
A highly rated prospect not only at the Sharks, but in South African rugby circles as a whole. That has already been highlighted by the many times the 21-year-old has been involved for the Sharks senior team at various levels, including last year’s Super Rugby where he often came off the bench to good effect. However, as rugby resumed he seemed to fall behind in the Sharks pecking order, and now the arrival of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi could plunge his prospects of regular game time at the Durban union even further. The former SA Schools and SA U20 captain is, himself touted as a future Springbok prospect and will surely be using the extensive game time he will be getting during the Franchise Cup to further strengthen such predictions, as well as his future at the Sharks.
It was a toss-up between “Phepsi” as Buthelezi is affectionately known as, and Thembelani Bholi as to who makes this list, as both have different points to prove but both equally being at risk of being the causality as Kolisi’s presence now gives Coach Sean Everitt the opportunity to experiment with different loose forward combinations.
7: Kwanda Dimaza (Pumas)
The Qonce-born flanker’s case at the Pumas has proven to be a curious one thus far. Having joined the Mbombela outfit, in what seemed like a high profile signing from the Sharks, Dimaza was expected to finally kick on, in an environment that was supposed to afford him more senior game time. However, after a tough outing in the Pumas Super Rugby Unlocked opening round loss to the Cheetahs, “The Force” as Dimaza is popularly known as, found himself dropped to the bench and has been mysteriously out of favour since.
The Franchise Cup could prove the perfect form for the former SA Schools ‘A’ player to remind his coaches, exactly why he was so highly regarded at the Shark tank while resurrecting his Pumas careers in the process.
6: Nizaam Carr (Bulls)
The Springbok loose forward is no doubt, the standout player on this list. After an impressive four-year stint at London Wasps, which saw him become a stalwart and fan favourite, many were expecting the 29-year-old to figure much more than he has for the Bulls thus far. Although unlikely to admit in public, a part of Carr’s ego would’ve been hurt when he was asked to lead a youthful and fringe player filled Bulls side, instead of also being afforded a rest like most of the players who played a more prominent role in the Bulls double trophy triumph.
The former Stormers player would’ve been encouraged, however, by his two-try scoring performance and will be hoping White would’ve caught a glance of what he is still capable of.
5: Jan Uys (Bulls)
The 27-year-old arrived back to the country amid much fanfare when his impressive signing announcement compilation sent the mouths of many a Bulls fans watering. However, that would soon prove to be where the excitement would end. Arriving from French Top 14 side CA Brive, at around the same time as fellow lock Sintu Manjezi, it was even mooted that the two could form a new look and powerful lock pairing under Jake White. The abrasive second rower, however, struggled for fitness during his early days at Loftus and fell firmly behind in the pecking order.
He did, recover in time to play the few matches at the backend of the Bulls Currie Cup triumph, with he and Manjezi belatedly forming a partnership. He will now be looking to carry that momentum and use the Franchise Cup as an opportunity to finally introduce himself to the Bulls faithful. With word that White will be looking to further bolster his lock ranks, The Rainbow Cup could prove to be Uys’ swansong at the Bulls, so he will be hoping to use this cup to cement his place instead, to prevent a potential exit.
4: JJ van der Mescht (Sharks)
This one may come as a surprise as one of the most high profile players on this list. But the 21-year-old comes with a different point to prove, as there is no doubt about the faith the Sharks coaching staff have in the former SA U20 star. At home at both lock and flank, the absolute man mountain who rose to prominence at the 2018 Junior Rugby World Championships, has already been used extensively at various levels for the Sharks and will be hoping to use the Franchise Cup to cement not only his primary position as an enforcer lock, but also to convince the Sharks that there is no need to sign a marquee and experienced lock for that role, as Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee has already confirmed the union are mulling over.
3: Sazi Sandi (Stormers)
Having made his Stormers senior bow during the Super Rugby Unlocked Cup, Makhanda native Sandi, will be looking for an extended run, to prove both his immediate and long term credentials to the Cape Town-based side. The 22-year-old is a monster in the scrum, something that came to a wider audiences’ attention, while in the colours of Maties in the Varsity Cup.
The Franchise Cup gives the tighthead the opportunity to show he can do the same at senior level, and the former SA Schools and SA U20 player will be hoping such exploits will help make him a worthy option for the Rainbow Cup.
2: Fezokuhle Mbatha (Sharks)
Often the hooker providing cover for the two hookers in the matchday 23, 21-year-old Mbatha, will no doubt be relishing the rear opportunity to be involved in the matchday squad and playing opportunities that will come with it. The Former SA U20 player is a highly rated figure within the Sharks ranks and is expected to challenge for the starting spot soon. He started the opening round game against the Griquas on the bench, but will surely be given a chance to affect the game from the onset, as the tournament progresses. The Maritzburg College Old Boy will be hoping to take that opportunity with both hands.
1: Khwezi Mona (Sharks)
The East London-born mobile loosehead prop, was signed in what many saw as a deal to ensure cover for the likes of Springbok Ox Nche and Mzamo Majola at the Sharks. But the experienced 28-year-old was quick to dispel that, revealing that, he was signed with the intention of giving him a chance to prove his worth at the union.
The Franchise Cup provides an opportunity to do just that for the for former Griquas and Pumas player and having impressed in his first start, against his former side the Griquas last week Sunday, he has stood himself in good stead to make a longer lasting impact in his second spell back at the coastal union.