Who to keep an eye on?

2013-08-10 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Who will jump out at us during the Currie Cup, the grand old competition that is inadvertently reinventing itself as a forum for bright young talent to fast-track themselves to prominence?

As some of the country’s early to stand out, first-class players are suddenly coaxed abroad by the power of foreign currencies, there is urgent emphasis on next-generation performers to fill the various voids.

Here is my suggestion of relevant players to keep an eye on (it includes some who are not outright rookies, but may be set for big personal breakthrough seasons or are making up lost ground hungrily after injury).

KOLBE is being fielded at left wing, which seems a bit limiting when you consider the counter-attacking havoc he can cause in more space from No 15.

Then again, if he is going to be groomed as the next Gio Aplon, why not pick up some handy lessons from alongside him in the WP back three?

AT 25, Whitehead isn’t exactly a greenhorn at Currie Cup level … he first sampled it some four years ago in his tenure with WP, and while still a student at UCT.

Now in the second year of his employment by the Sharks, the inside centre will be praying for an uninterrupted run in the side after missing the Super Rugby campaign with frustrating hand and arm injuries. (Keep in mind that the thus-far luckless character also sat out last year’s final against the Chiefs!)

He is highly rated in Durban for his organisational skills at No 12 and ability to create opportunities for those around him, so will want to make up lost time in a hurry.

CITRUSDAL-BORN and a product of a prolific schools’ rugby factory (Paarl Gym), Hanekom took a bit of time to adapt to the demands of senior rugby, but all the signs are now that he has finally “got it”.

He was a slippery customer in the nail-biting promotion/relegation tussle with the Kings recently, and if he keeps growing into the No 13 jersey, he could be just the sort of tonic the Jo’burg franchise needs for a suitably competitive comeback in Super Rugby early next year.

BRAWNY blindside flank Du Plessis may just find that his Currie Cup debut, at Newlands tomorrow, isn’t quite as undemanding as his prior Vodacom Cup blooding for the Blue Bulls earlier this year — on that occasion his side won 110-0 against the hapless Limpopo Blue Bulls.

This will be a more searching examination, especially considering that WP field established tough nut Rynhardt Elstadt in their own No 7 jersey. But the 19-year-old (his 20th birthday looms on Monday) has very promising physical gifts at 119 kg and 2,01 m and was a particularly visible figure for the Baby Boks at the 2013 IRB Junior World Championship.

The discus ace did have some clumsy and wrong-option moments in the French-hosted tournament, so the Currie Cup ought to help add some gradual subtlety to his “direct” skills.

THIS comes with a caution that we shouldn’t get too excited about Mnisi just yet … it would be heaping an absurd amount of pressure on him.

After all, he was to make his Currie Cup debut in the tough environment of the Shark Tank last evening — though knowledge of the Durban scene from his Sharks U21 days is a handy little ally. But he is an interesting case because he may just provide an answer to the question: how big is the gap, really, between Varsity Cup and Currie Cup?

Mnisi was a prominent, constructive figure in midfield for the NMMU Madibaz in 2013, doing enough to earn the “Back That Rocks” mantle in the university competition. Can he transfer the magic to a loftier stage? He’s partnered for Griquas in midfield by JP Nel, which could help settle any butterflies quickly.

ISN’T it wonderful to reflect on a full-blooded tight-five contribution by someone like De Jager to the Cheetahs’ unprecedented charge to the Super Rugby finals series … and then realise the beanpole is still only 20 years old?

Fuelled by his strides one rung higher on the rugby ladder, the 2,05 m giant (not the worst guy to succeed departing Andries Bekker for freak “cloud-touching” capability on the domestic scene) must be targeting a strong personal Currie Cup with great relish.

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