Saturday’s Springbok Showdown at Newlands is a golden opportunity for players to impress the national selectors, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The historic Green vs. Gold showdown at the grand old lady of South African rugby is a much-anticipated throwback to the trials of yesteryear with a modern twist in the form of last Friday’s strategic and compelling player draft.
Rassie Erasmus (team commissioner) and Mzwandile Stick (coach) selected a 25-man Green squad packed with power and experience, while Jacques Nienaber (team commissioner) and Deon Davids (coach) opted for a younger, more athletic team with a distinct Stormers flavour.
While all the stars will seek to show out, the following players have the most to gain:
Ox Nche (Green)
The barnstorming brute has been in the Springbok conversation since he burst onto the senior scene at the Cheetahs in 2016 following a promising junior career that saw him help the South African Under-20s bag bronze in the World Championship the previous year.
Consistently stellar showings led to him making his Springbok debut as part of an experimental team that succumbed 22-20 to Wales in Washington DC in 2018. He, like many other debutants on the day, is yet to add to that maiden Test cap. While others have had to work their way back into contention, Nche’s situation is unique in that he’s had to play a waiting game.
With the great Tendai Mtawarira having bowed out after last year’s World Cup triumph in Japan, the time has come for Nche to state his case for the vacant position. He’s done a commendable job of filling Beast’s big shoes in the early stages of his Sharks career and a strong showing on Saturday, particularly at scrum time, could catapult him back into the Springbok squad, perhaps for good.
JD Schickerling (Green)
The towering Stormers second-rower is a special athlete but also arguably the unluckiest player in South African rugby. With his size, strength and athleticism, he should’ve been a staple in the Springbok squad by this stage. He’s every bit the specimen that Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert and RG Snyman are. In fact, he’s a hybrid of the fantastic four, equally adept as an enforcer and lineout general.
A member of the Springbok end-of-year squad in 2018, he’s yet to make his Test debut as serious injuries have stifled his ascent. He has as much drive as he has natural ability, having endured years of accumulative rehabilitation, including 16 miserable months of character-testing therapy after breaking his neck while playing for the Western Province Under-21 team against the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on 30 August 2014.
The former Junior Springbok looks in phenomenal shape and was one of the standouts in the Stormers’ 43-21 win over the Lions last weekend. With Etzebeth, De Jager and Snyman all sidelined, the door is open for Schickerling to finally realise his Springbok dream and a towering performance at Newlands will go a long way toward the 25-year-old achieving his Green and Gold goal.
Marco van Staden (Gold)
Van Staden appears to be in the outside lane in the race to replace the retired Francois Louw in the Springbok set-up. In the conversation of Flo’s successor, his name doesn’t come up as fast or frequently as that of Marcell Coetzee and Kwagga Smith, with the latter two having proven themselves at the highest level.
The Bulls opensider has a world of potential, which he’s showcased with much success on the Super Rugby scene, but he hasn’t had an opportunity to truly show what he can do on the international arena, having come off the bench in all three of his Test appearances (the last being last August’s World Cup warm-up match against Argentina at Loftus).
A specialist fetcher with Rottweiler-like tenacity, the Bulls No.6 made a big impact in last weekend’s 49-28 win over the Sharks. With Jaco Kriel, who also reminded Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber of his breakdown brilliance last weekend, also in the mix, Van Staden has a golden opportunity – against the Springbok captain – to make some noise.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Gold)
Notshe was an undeniable dynamo in the curtailed Super Rugby season. Given game time and freedom to express himself at the Sharks, the forgotten Springbok thrilled week in and week out with scintillating breaks and outstanding offloads. The former Stormer looks a man reborn and his selection in the Gold team confirms he’s grabbed the attention of the Springbok brass.
He’s made giant strides to earn his spot in the all-star showdown but finds himself in a unique position with a tricky obstacle in his path, that being his free-flowing style doesn’t fit the Springbok gameplan. Last weekend’s meeting with the Bulls also highlighted the fact that a continuity specialist like him can be rendered ineffective by a dominant pack.
It would be unfair to be overly critical of his performance last weekend, given the six-month shutout and his red-hot form before it. It did, however, raise a few questions, which Notshe will get to answer under the Green and Gold spotlight. Show out on Saturday and he’ll make a strong argument that his speed and ball skills would add an extra dimension to the Springboks.
Wandisile Simelane (Green)
There are daunting challenges like the physical battle that awaits fellow former Junior Springbok Rikus Pretorius against Frans Steyn, and then there’s the daunting challenge Simelane’s faced within Lukhanyo Am. The incumbent Springbok No.13 is a chess master and Rubik’s Cube rolled into one – the gold standard of outside centres.
Simelane’s similarly-skilled and arguably has a speed advantage, but the rising star’s not nearly as polished as his decorated and seasoned foe. He has all the talent in the world does the 2018 Junior Springbok Player of the Year, but like any greenhorn, he has much to learn, and he couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than the Sharks and Gold team skipper.
A creative ballplayer with excellent footwork and offloading abilities, it’s seemingly only a matter of time before the Lions centre makes his Springbok bow. Saturday’s head-to-head battle against Am, with its added spice, will be a good gauge of the 22-year-old’s growth and whether he’s ready to be thrust into the Test arena as early as the upcoming Rugby Championship (should the Springboks take part).
Salmaan Moerat (Gold)
Like Simelane, Moerat is a Springbok in the making. He’s a former South African Under-20 captain and has made the most of 2020. A standout performance could fast-track him into the Springbok squad, but considering the injury-enforced absence of Etzebeth, De Jager and Snyman, more experienced players like Jason Jenkins and Marvin Orie are more likely to be drafted in at this stage.
Arno Botha (Green)
With a greater need for a specialist fetcher, Botha finds himself among the honourable mentions. A workhorse on top of being a strong ball carrier and an additional lineout option, the 28-year-old will want to put his hand up as a stand-in for Pieter-Steph du Toit should the 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year fail to return from injury this year.
Sanele Nohamba (Green)
With the Springboks boasting incredible depth at scrumhalf, even a sensational showing won’t see Sharks livewire unseat World Cup winners Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies or Cobus Reinach. Injuries do happen, though, and that he was drafted ahead of former Springboks Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl will add fuel to his fire.
Damian Willemse (Gold)
The versatile Stormers star is already part of the Springbok squad and will be for some time to come. He’s therefore not playing for a spot, especially with the injured Handre Pollard out of the picture. However, he’ll still want to show that his surprising selection ahead of the inform Curwin Bosch is warranted.
Werner Kok (Gold)
The former Blitzbok shone in his Sharks debut last weekend, exhibiting great energy and explosive power. He has the size, speed and work rate to become a full-fledged Springbok but isn’t in the starting XV, so it’s unclear how much game time he’ll get.
15 Gianni Lombard, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Erasmus, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Junior Pokomela, 22 Embrose Papier, 23 Manie Libbok, 24 Jeremy Ward, 25 Kade Wolhuter.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Rosko Specman, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Richardson, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Carlü Sadie, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 James Venter, 21 Vincent Tshituka, 22 Ivan van Zyl, 23 Curwin Bosch, 24 Werner Kok, 25 Manuel Rass.