Kudos to SA Rugby for not only staging an all-star spectacle – like the riveting recent North-South clash in New Zealand – but adding an extra element of excitement and intrigue to it.
A player draft similar to that of the NFL and NBA is something many South African rugby lovers have only fantasized about, but because of the drastically restructured rugby landscape due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it will become a reality on Friday.
Fifty of the top 93 South African-based players will be selected to showcase their skills in the Springbok Showdown at Newlands next Saturday (3 October).
Mzwandile Stick (coach) and Rassie Erasmus (team commissioner) are in charge of the Green team, with Deon Davids (coach) and Jacques Nienaber (team commissioner) forming the brains trust of the Gold team.
They’re set to take schoolyard-like alternate turns to assemble their match-day squads of 25 players each. Based on this good old-fashioned selection format, here are my top 20 picks:
1: Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)
Unmatched physicality and experience earn Vermeulen the honours as the number one draft pick. The selection of the Springbok legend first up sends a clear message that the opposition can expect a physical and cerebral onslaught spearheaded by the MVP of the 2019 World Cup final.
2: Siya Kolisi (Stormers)
To counteract Vermeulen, look no further than the Springbok skipper. Kolisi is THE most inspiring captain in world rugby – a born competitor who fights for every inch and leads by example. Coming off an injury that kept him out of action since the second round of Super Rugby, he’ll be especially rusty, but his ability to get the best out of his men alone makes Kolisi a top commodity.
3: Frans Steyn (Cheetahs)
In an ocean of 93 players, the two-time World Cup winner is in a league of his own as a big, strong midfield battering ram. It’s safe to say whoever snaps up Steyn will enjoy momentum-building go forward ball. The Springbok veteran’s versatility and cannon boot add to his appeal.
4: Lukhanyo Am (Sharks)
Am’s unique in his own right with his exceptional vision and high rugby IQ, which enables him to create or exploit the smallest of gaps with subtle steps, touches and timing on attack and unrivalled defensive dependability and shape. Add his composure, ball-winning and leadership skills and the Sharks skipper is a must-have.
5: Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers)
Another World Cup winner in a class of his own, Mbonambi’s name jumps out of the rather shallow hooker pool. A barn-storming, battle-hardened hooker, the incumbent Springbok No.2 is a high horse-power hybrid of the rest of the field. Like Kolisi, he was injured early in the season, so he’ll be raring to go.
6: Curwin Bosch (Sharks)
The prodigious pivot was the form South African flyhalf in the curtailed Super Rugby tournament, steering the Sharks to the top of the table with fast-paced flair, excellent decision-making and accurate goal-kicking. As a result, he’s my top pick at 10. The 23-year-old will be determined to seize the day to further bolster his hopes of a Springbok recall.
7: Herschel Jantjies (Stormers)
Three of the five scrumhalves (Jantjies, Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl) have Springbok blazers while the other two (Sanele Nohamba and Jaden Hendrikse) have Green and Gold futures. Jantjies is the most well-rounded of the bunch, as well as the most electrifying, and will play an important part in dictating terms.
8: Frans Malherbe (Stormers)
To paraphrase Doc Craven, the foundation for success is an immovable tighthead. There’s little to choose from between Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane and Thomas du Toit, but be that as it may, the Stormers tighthead is the superior scrummager and also has the edge in terms of output in open play.
9: Elton Jantjies (Lions)
A seasoned match-manager, Jantjies knows how to pull the strings. The Springbok stalwart brings an assuredness that can only be acquired over years of Test rugby to the table. He boasts all the tricks in the book as well – pinpoint cross kicks, clever grubbers, great distribution as well as piercing acceleration and agility.
10: Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
South Africa’s blessed with an abundance of world-class front-rowers on both sides. Much like Stormers teammate Malherbe, Kitshoff is the total package – a terrific scrummager who gets through a mountain of work across the park. His vast experience and leadership traits help propel him up the list and ahead of top rivals Lizo Gqoboka and Ox Nche.
11: James Venter (Sharks)
One of just two uncapped players in the top 20, Venter’s move from the Lions to the Sharks has allowed him to showcase his potential, particularly as an out-and-out fetcher. The 24-year-old has added a new dynamic to the Durban side; it’s that red-hot form and those ball-stealing abilities that make him such a ‘get’.
12: Damian Willemse (Stormers)
Flair for days. Willemse’s a wizard, a potent playmaker, be it at fullback, flyhalf or inside centre. His versatility, skill and creativity make him one of the most exciting and unpredictable players around. He thrives on freedom and the Springbok Showdown is a perfect platform for him to showcase his game-breaking brilliance.
13: Marvin Orie (Lions)
The Lions lock stands head and shoulders above the rest as far as lineout generalship is concerned. Bossing this set-piece will be particularly tricky given the all-star outfits will have precious little time to prepare for the clash, thus, a cunning and seasoned strategist like Orie will be worth his weight in gold.
14: Rosko Specman (Cheetahs)
There are three Springboks among the available wings in Travis Ismaiel, Cornal Hendricks and Courtnall Skosan. They are top-class yet similar. Specmagic is a point of difference. The former Blitzbok is a flair-filled firecracker with a chip on his shoulder…a match-winner who could steal the show.
15: Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks)
Notshe hit the ground running in Durban and was consistently sensational for the Sharks before the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed the tournament. His remarkable career resurgence should see him being picked up in the top 20, which would add fuel to his runaway, off-loading fire to complete a Springbok comeback.
16: Warrick Gelant (Stormers)
Versatility, as aforementioned, is ultra-appealing, but that doesn’t mean specialists have no value. Gelant’s positional prowess – i.e. tactical proficiency, situational awareness and dependability under the high ball – is his biggest drawcard. He’s a proven playmaker on top of that.
17: Jaco Kriel (Lions)
All things being equal, the former Springbok would’ve been the most sought-after fetcher in the draft. However, while Venter was putting himself on the Super Rugby map, Kriel was busy finalising a return to South Africa. Back at the Lions after injuries ruined his stint in Europe, he is a predatory pilferer and solid ball-carrier.
18: Arno Botha (Bulls)
Speaking of returning Springbok loose forwards, Botha and Nizaam Carr are quite the catches. Both will be hell-bent on making an immediate impact on the national selectors. Botha’s slightly more explosive, powerful and athletic and also has a slightly better gas tank.
19: Jason Jenkins (Bulls)
Jenkins is the most experienced of the enforcer locks, which gives him a leg up on the competition. A double tough physical force, he lives for trench warfare. A prototypical Bulls hardman, the ex-Springbok could draw on his durability to outlast his opposition.
20: Trevor Nyakane (Bulls)
The Bulls brute is one’s best bet of combating Kitshoff’s firepower, stamina and experience. Nyakane’s conditioning (once his only real weakness) is outstanding, he’s a robust ball-carrier, a relentless defender and he’s proven he can give as good as he gets at scrum time.
Springbok Showdown draft squad:
Props: Frans Malherbe, Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Lizo Gqoboka^, Ox Nche^, Marcel van der Merwe^, Ruan Dreyer^, Dylan Smith, Carlu Sadie, Gerhard Steenekamp, Luan de Bruin, Sti Sithole, Nathan McBeth, Mzamo Majola, Johannes Jonker, John-Hubert Meyer.
Hookers: Bongi Mbonambi*, Scarra Ntubeni^, Dylan Richardson, Johan Grobbelaar, Schalk Erasmus, Fez Mbatha, Dan Jooste.
Locks: Jason Jenkins^, Marvin Orie^, Oupa Mohoje^, JD Schickerling, Emile van Heerden, Le Roux Roets, Hyron Andrews, Ruben van Heerden, Salmaan Moerat, Sintu Manjezi, Walt Steenkamp, Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruan Vermaak, Ruben Schoeman.
Loose forwards: Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen, Sikhumbuzo Notshe^, Arno Botha^, Marco van Staden^, Nizaam Carr^, Jaco Kriel^, Ernst van Rhyn, Celimpilo Gumede, Jaco Coetzee, James Venter, Junior Pokomela, Phepsi Buthelezi, Thembelani Bholi, Vincent Tshituka, Elrigh Louw, Jeandré Rudolph, Juarno Augustus, Muller Uys, Len Massyn.
Scrumhalves: Herschel Jantjies*, Embrose Papier^, Ivan van Zyl^, Jaden Hendrikse, Sanele Nohamba.
Flyhalves: Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse, Curwin Bosch^, George Whitehead, Kade Wolhuter, Manie Libbok.
Centres: Frans Steyn, Lukhanyo Am, Burger Odendaal, Jeremy Ward, Clinton Swart, Manuel Rass, Marius Louw, Rikus Pretorius, Wandisile Simelane, Werner Kok, Dan du Plessis, Ruhan Nel.
Outside backs: Warrick Gelant*, Travis Ismaiel^, Cornal Hendricks^, Courtnall Skosan^, Rabz Maxwane, Rosko Specman, Seabelo Senatla, Sergeal Petersen, Yaw Penxe, David Kriel, Gianni Lombard, Malcolm Jaer.
- denotes Springbok Rugby World Cup squad members
^ denotes capped Springbok Test players