At the start of the new year, Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies five budding talents he believes will have a breakout 2024.
The Springboks are blessed with two of the best hookers in the world in Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi, however, the World Cup showed the two stalwarts are human after all and not immune to breaking down.
The versatile Deon Fourie, preferred ahead of Joseph Dweba, did a stellar job as a stopgap third-choice hooker but the need for new blood was made crystal clear.
Grobbelaar leads the pack when it comes to the next generation of hookers in South African rugby. The 26-year-old is unmatched in his consistency over the last couple of seasons and can count himself unlucky that he hasn’t made his Springbok bow already after first being called into the national squad in 2021.
Andre-Hugo Venter has the makings of a future Bok as well but hasn’t had a sustained run in the Stormers No. 2 jersey to truly prove himself as Grobbelaar has at the Bulls, leaving the latter in a good position to realise his Springbok dream this year.
If cricket prodigy Dewald Brevis is “Baby AB” then Venter is “Baby Bone Collector.” In the Willem Alberts mould, the 21-year-old’s brute strength and physicality are extraordinary, which speaks volumes in the country known for breeding the most brutal rugby players on the planet.
A 1.98m, 118kg dominator, Venter’s exuberance and explosiveness have already seen him take names, most memorably Scotland and British & Irish Lions ace Hamish Watson, who he owned on both sides of the ball when the Lions played the Warriors in Glasgow in 2022.
A ferocious flank who can cover lock, the colossus continues to develop at a healthy rate and has a big 2024 ahead of him.
This time last year, no one knew who Hanekom was. Now he’s one of the most talked-about players in South Africa. That’s how fast he’s made a name for himself.
The Bulls greenhorn has taken the United Rugby Championship by storm, delivering one dynamic display after another in his rookie season to spark talks of an international future.
In addition to having the size and strength synonymous with South African back-rowers, the 21-year-old has shown a deft offloading game and has poached a few turnovers on the deck, suggesting he has an all-around base to build on.
After Duane Vermeulen’s retirement, the Springboks are on the lookout for No. 8s. Hanekom has gotten his senior career off to the strongest of starts and the risk of losing him to Wales – with Warren Gatland keeping close tabs on him – could prompt Rassie Erasmus to rope him in sooner rather than later.
A bona fide blue-chipper, it’s not a matter of if but when Feinberg-Mngomezulu will become a full-fledged Springbok.
The former Junior Springbok captain is a can’t-miss prospect that even caught the eye of Eddie Jones, who as England coach in 2022 wanted to poach the prodigy, who has a British passport. He was fast-tracked into the South African ‘A’ side that same year and it’s a solid bet he’ll make his Test debut this season.
The 21-year-old flyhalf, who starred for the Stormers at inside centre in the opening rounds of the current United Rugby Championship before picking up an injury, has everything. He’s a top athlete and a gifted baller but more than that, he has poise and polish well beyond his years. In that respect, he reminds me a lot of a young Handre Pollard.
I have no doubt that he’s going to have a long and successful Springbok career.
Henco van Wyk
The Hoërskool Monument product burst onto the scene in a big way in 2022. Equally excellent on attack and defence, the Lions midfielder made a name for himself in no time and earned the nickname “Weapon X”. The undeniable talent was rewarded with a place in the South Africa ‘A’ team before a knee injury sidelined him for most of 2023.
Back in business, the 22-year-old is hell-bent on making up for lost time and performing for the pride of Johannesburg en route to becoming a Springbok. Lukhanyo Am will be planning a big comeback in the green and gold after his injury struggles last season, which saw Jesse Kriel slot in and play the best rugby of his career.
It also produced a new wrinkle that will affect Van Wyk’s chances in Canan Moodie moving from the wing to No. 13 for three Tests – the record 35-7 win over the All Blacks and the World Cup pool games against Romania and Tonga.
It’ll be Van Wyk’s mission to show Erasmus there’s no need to rush Moodie’s move into the midfield and that he’s the horse the Bok boss should be backing.