22 January 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld
South African Key Players Super Rugby 2020
As South African sides aim to up the ante in this year’s Super Rugby tournament, Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies the key player of each franchise.
The Bulls have been stripped of its powerful core and coach Pote Human has been left with a barebones pack compared to the star-studded stable who led the chargeback to the play-offs last year.
World Cup-winning Springboks Duane Vermeulen, RG Snyman, Lood de Jager and Schalk Brits have left major voids, and to make matters worse, battle-tested bruisers such as Jason Jenkins, Hanro Liebenberg, Roelof Smit and Jannes Kirsten, among others, have also left Loftus.
The best rugby nickname I’ve heard this year is Bulls flanker Marco van Staden’s. Apparently it’s Eskom … because he tackles your lights out…
— Simnikiwe Xabanisa (@simxabanisa) May 5, 2018
The depleted Bulls need a new champion to step up, a general to take the fight to the opposition with the passion and physicality the Pretoria franchise are feared for. Van Staden, with his experience and pedigree, is positioned to be that man. Injury has stunted his rise to Springbok stardom, limiting him to three Test appearances, against Argentina and Australia in 2018 and another against the Pumas last year, but he’s still very much in the national picture.
An outstanding openside flank with a world of potential, 2020 is the year for the 24-year-old to take the next step in his career and make his case to be the next long-term Springbok fetcher following Francois Louw’s retirement from international rugby after the Springboks’ 32-12 win over England in last year’s World Cup final in Yokohama. That begins with Van Staden assuming a senior leadership role in the new-look Bulls pack.
*News broke on Wednesday that Van Staden has been ruled out for six weeks due to concussion from a heavy hit during the recent warm-up game againsts UP-Tuks
One of the Johannesburg side’s great servants, Jantjies is a Super Rugby centurion and helped guide the Lions to three consecutive finals from 2016-2018. The legendary flyhalf has long been a leader at the Lions, but with Warren Whiteley ruled out of the 2020 season due to a knee injury and fellow senior star players Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith on sabbatical in Japan, the responsibility will fall heavily on Jantjies this year.
As a player, Jantjies has all the tools. He’s a pivot who can slice and dice defensive structures in a multitude of ways but is also a well-travelled tactician and a good goal-kicker. For as long as he’s been around, he’s still only 29 and – crucially for the Lions – the stalwart says his World Cup winner’s medal has only reignited his fire.
Elton Jantjies shows again he is the man when it comes to off the cuff play. A quick tap and cross field kick to find Courtnall Skosan who does excellently to gather and score.
Jantjies slots the conversion from the corner.#SuperHeroSunday
— Dylan Jack (@dylanmattjack) January 19, 2020
He’s also embracing the added responsibility and opportunity to become a mentor to his young Lions teammates. “It’s an exciting transition, a big learning transition, a growth transition. It will also be a new culture for me as well because I have been at the Lions a long time and will be able to share my experience and what I’ve learnt and getting what is going through their minds as young players in their first or second season, that is what is exciting to me,” he told SuperSport.
A Lions legend, Jantjies is the perfect man to lead the new pride into the future. He’s been hot-headed in the past, most recently being stood down after overruling skipper Smith during a derby game against the Sharks in Durban last season, but Jantjies believes he’s matured after the Springboks’ six-week journey to World Cup glory in Japan.
In a curious case of rather late than never, the time has finally come for prodigious playmaker Curwin Bosch to pull the strings in the black and white No.10 jersey. Robert du Preez, who was the first-choice flyhalf under his dad Robert Senior last season, has departed Durban along with his father and brothers Jean-Luc and Dan, and new Sharks coach Sean Everitt has handed Bosch the keys.
After weeks of Bosch’s mercurial skills being restricted at fullback whilst Rob Junior struggled to find form, it took a nasty one-two combo – a humiliating 51-17 loss to the Jaguares followed by a first home loss to the Reds (24-14) in 15 years – for the pivotal change fans had been calling for to finally materialise last year.
Bosch instantly breathed new life into the Sharks, starring in his first start at flyhalf since 2017 and guiding the Durbanites to a first win over the Waratahs (23-15) in Sydney in 19 years. He continued to impress and turned their fortunes around, helping steer the Sharks into the quarter-finals.
His good form put him back in the Springbok conversation for the first time since his one-off appearance in the Green and Gold in the 22-20 loss to Wales in Washington DC in 2018, and like the Bulls’ Van Staden, 2020 is a pivotal year in the uber-talented 22-year-old’s promising career.
Willemse’s top-flight rugby story mirrors that of Bosch – an underutilised wunderkind waiting to break out. Even more than their coastal counterparts up in Durban, Stormers supporters can hardly contain their excitement at the prospect of Willemse at No.10.
New coach John Dobson sees the rising Springbok star as the next franchise flyhalf, rather than a fullback where he spent most of his time under Robbie Fleck, and his attacking attitude and ingenuity is exactly what the stale Stormers need. That the Cape side scored just 34 tries last season, a joint-tournament low along with wooden spoonists the Sunwolves shows just how badly they need an injection of flair.
Please mark my words……Damian Willemse
— Mayi (@MTshwete) January 19, 2020