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SA Super Rugby Balancing Act: Youth v Experience

30 January 2020, by: Ludumo Nkabi

SA Super Rugby Balancing Act: Youth v Experience

Super Rugby kicks off this week and the South African teams looked to be in good shape during the Super Hero Sunday warmup games on 19 of January, all team showed good intent in an entertaining day of rugby.

There were a few new and exciting youngsters available for selection to all South African sides, many of whom showed promise, while a few veterans returning to South Africa from overseas teams also featured for South African Super Rugby franchises.

There can be no doubt that experience is a vital part of being successful in Super Rugby and the coaches of the respective teams will look to utilise that, but it cannot be at the expense of talented young players who are undoubtedly a huge part of the future in South African rugby.

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In the second fixture on the day Juandre Kruger, Josh Strauss and Morne Steyn started for the Blue Bulls and performed admirably, the Bulls lost three Springbok locks at the end of last season and Juandre Kruger’s deployment at lock is understandable in the absence of experienced locks.

The same could be said of former Scotland international Josh Strauss coming into the loose forwards to offset the loss of World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen and loose forward, Hanro Liebenberg.

Starting Morne Steyn however brought about grumbles from the rugby public and understandably so as it meant promising flyhalf, Manie Libbok had to settle for a place on the bench.

The talented Libbok was already putting pressure on Handre Pollard and it seems a natural succession should occur particularly when one considers Steyn – who turns 36 on the 11th of July – probably has a season or 2 of professional rugby left in him. Pote Human may well still revert to the talents of Libbok.


This week it was also announced that Willem Alberts has signed with the Lions with whom he began his professional career. Alberts homecoming coincides with the untimely injury to the prodigiously talented Cyle Brink, who ruptured his achilles tendon, and will no doubt plug a hole with Brink out for the bulk of the Super Rugby campaign.

Vincent Tshituka, the 21-year-old blindside flanker who showed in 2019 that he was more than capable of making the no.7 jersey his own, will be wary of the destructive Alberts, but he has more than enough about his own game to come out tops in the battle of that berth, superior athleticism and better ball skills should see him utilised ahead of the 43 cap Springbok in an expansive Lions game plan.


The Stormers have also recruited veteran Welsh inside centre Jamie Roberts to come in and bring a bit of stability in a midfield devoid of experience following the departure of Springbok World Cup star, Damian de Allende, it is a shrewd move from the Stormers, but in their ranks, they have Rikus Pretorius, 20, who represented the Junior Boks and is a player with immense potential.

The 1.92m and 102kg centre is very much in the mould of Roberts – big, physical and strong. The difference comes in their anticipation and movement towards the line. Roberts runs from a little deeper having to work up a head of steam before abrasively breaking through defences, while Pretorius is a bit better with his feet movement and as such stands a little flatter to the line making him a little trickier to defend.

It all depends largely on the game plan employed by John Dobson on the day, Damian Willemse will have to vary his game to suit one or the other. Dobson cannot disregard the former Welsh international’s experience, but the growth and utilisation of the former Grey College scholar is paramount in this developmental stage of his career.


In Durban the Sharks are in good shape, boasting a backline full of Springboks with Aphelele Fassi being the only regular starter yet to don the green and gold – even though it is only a matter of time before he does. Naturally, you would assume that he is most in danger of being usurped by the likes of Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen who are the hardened veterans of that backline.

His early season form suggests he is in no danger of losing his place especially during a season where he will most likely be pushing for a spot with the Springboks. Sean Everitt’s biggest task is finding ways to make use of the 2 seasoned Springboks to aid his already formidable team, particularly the backline.


The balancing act across the board is going to be tricky for all the South African Super Rugby teams. The exodus of experienced players post-World Cup means that experience is needed on the field during most of the game, but can it really be justified to reduce a rare find like Carlu Sadie at tighthead’s game time to accommodate a 37-year-old Jannie du Plessis? It is an answer that the Super Rugby coaches are going to have to provide.

There is always a transitional phase the year after the World Cup and coaches are still trying to find their best line ups in Super Rugby, they will see the needs of their teams and astutely execute the strategy that puts them in with the best chance of success. Over to you coach.

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