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The Future of Springbok Rugby

At the start of the new year, Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies five budding talents he believes have big Springbok futures.

At the start of the new year, Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies five budding talents he believes have big Springbok futures.

Ruan Nortje

At 23, Nortje’s already the Bulls’ lineout general. At the Pretoria-based franchise, that role carries extra weight and so far, Nortje has exceeded expectations. He’s similar to the great Victor Matfield in that he’s a cerebral student of the game, one locked in on cracking code and dominating the set-piece contest.

His other great strength is that he’s a hybrid athlete. A move to the back-row during the Rainbow Cup was the first sign that Jake White sees him as a dual dynamo i.e. a utility forward capable of thriving at lock and in the loose trio. White has since likened the towering and tireless workhorse to Pieter-Steph du Toit and Franco Mostert and he’s on course to follow in the decorated duo’s footsteps.

While “not the biggest lock” by his admission, Nortje doesn’t shy away from physicality and continues to pack on some extra kilograms whilst maintaining the mobility that makes him such a menace. South African rugby boasts an abundance of world-class second-rowers and Nortje is the brightest of the new breed.

Evan Roos

A dynamic force since joining the Stormers last year, Roos burst onto the scene and immediately caught the eye with his explosiveness and burning desire. A phenomenal pure athlete, the powerhouse’s inner fire has seen him blaze a trail that catapulted him straight into Springbok contention out of the blue.

His consistency was unmatched on the domestic front in 2021, as was his strength in contact. A dog with a bone he is not. Rather, rampaging Roos is a ravenous predator with its prey when it comes to carrying the ball. That hunger and willingness to fight for every meter saw the 21-year-old overpower and outwork grizzled veterans time and time again, while his work on defence was equally colossal.

My pick to scoop both gongs he’s been nominated for, namely the Currie Cup Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards, there was a tremor-like rumbling online when Roos was omitted from the Springbok squad for the end-of-year tour.

Indeed, the selectors missed a trick, but it won’t be long before the back-row sensation becomes a staple in the Springbok set-up. He’s the most exciting and complete forward to emerge in years, which speaks volumes in a country renowned for breeding beasts and looks like the legendary Duane Vermeulen’s heir apparent.

Jaden Hendrikse

Those who closely followed his rise through the ranks knew the scrumhalf supernova was destined for greatness. A blue-chipper since his schoolboy days at Glenwood, the former South African Under-20 star enjoyed the meteoric rise those in the know expected in 2021, going from back-up to starting No.9 at the Sharks and making his Springbok debut in the Rugby Championship.

Virtually all scrum-halves, especially those just starting their senior careers, are either attacking livewires or budding tacticians. Hendrikse is the exception to that rule. He’s the total package – as dangerous darting around the fringes as he is strategically on point.

Moreover, the 21-year-old plays with a maturity that belies his age and further set him apart in the new crop of nines coming through. He reads the ebbs and flows of a game like a seasoned campaigner, which enables him to consistently make the right decisions and produce big plays when required.

One such play was scoring a top-notch try on debut in the 32-12 win over against Argentina in the Rugby Championship opener. Sadly, he was a victim of a cheap shot from Marcos Kremer the following week that resulted in a fractured ankle that ruled him out for the remainder of the year.

Humble and hard-working, Hendrikse has the talent and temperament to push for Springbok centurion status if he avoids further serious injuries.

Jordan Hendrikse

Jordan shares many of the same aforementioned qualities his older brother possesses. He’s extraordinarily cool, calm, and collected for his age. Calling the shots in the cauldron of senior rugby is daunting but at 20, he already established himself as the Lions’ starting flyhalf in the absence of Elton Jantjies in 2021 before suffering the same fate as Jaden, breaking his ankle in the 36-13 loss to the Scarlets in October.

He plays with an attacking flair that gives him a sharp edge and an assuredness of a pivot with far greater experience. He was arguably the most composed of the South African flyhalves in the first two rounds of the United Rugby Championship, taking to the new conditions and fresh challenge with aplomb before going down.

Before that, he was a key figure in the Currie Cup side and for the Junior Springboks, who he piloted to an unbeaten campaign in the International Series in Stellenbosch that included Argentina, Georgia, and Uruguay. His rapid rise has earned him two award nominations – in the Young Player of the Year and Junior Springbok Player of the Year categories.

Flyhalf is an area in which the world champions lack depth and if he continues his progression, the promising Lions pivot could join Jaden and form the first brother halfback pairing in Springbok history.

Damian Willemse

Time will tell but all the signs are there that Willemse will be this generation’s Frans Steyn or Pat Lambie. A prodigious talent, he’s already a World Cup and British & Irish Lions series winner and has played in 14 Tests dating back to his debut off the bench in the 34-21 win over Argentina in Durban in 2018.

The mercurial 23-year-old has had to bide his time, however, starting on just four occasions, the last of which lasted just 13 minutes due to a concussion. That head knock he sustained in the 23-18 win over Wales in Cardiff in November was especially unfortunate as it ruled him out of the rest of the end-of-year tour, robbing him of the opportunity he’d yearned for to show his worth in the No.15 jersey.

Adept at fullback, flyhalf, and center, his place in the wider Springbok set-up is secure and he’s only going to grow in stature in the coming years. Due to his tremendous versatility, it is somewhat of a concern that he could get trapped in the super-sub vortex, but I suspect once the Springbok brains trust settle on the position he’s best suited for (fullback in my opinion), he’ll make it his own.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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