The unscheduled break visited upon the rugby season by the Covid-19 coronavirus has created a silly season before the silly season in terms of recruitment talk, which usually reaches a crescendo closer to October – the traditional hiring and firing month in South African rugby.
Having won just one of their six games before the Super Rugby season was suspended due to the pandemic, the Bulls are understandably the team most associated with rounding up talent – available or otherwise – in line with their new director of rugby Jake White’s restorative wishes.
As gifted talents, that Damian Willemse and Rikus Pretorius are part of the speculation makes sense, and Gio Aplon is a steady hand on the tiller, but lock forward Sintu Manjezi is probably a surprise inclusion for many.
Thanks to the fact that he’s done his best work in the Pro14, a competition South Africans have paid scant attention to since it began involving local teams two years ago, the Cheetahs lock is something of a best-kept secret, despite turning 25 this week.
Having already played for the Southern Kings and led the Griquas to the SuperSport Rugby Challenge last year, Manjezi showed what he was capable of last year by bossing pretty much every lock he came across as he drove the Cheetahs to the Currie Cup title.
But in a year in which the Currie Cup was abridged and the Springboks won the World Cup, a lock doing great things in an inferior competition was probably always going to slip under the radar.
Yet the rugby fraternity has clearly noticed because the mooted interest by the Bulls has been met with behind-the-scenes competition from the Lions and Western Province, giving him options he can use to plot the next instalment of a career that was supposed to have been eventful when he left school.
St Andrew’s College was convinced it had a Springbok when Manjezi, who made his journey into rugby via a detour to cricket, left school.
Back then, the then blindside flanker was also a provincial cricketer who answered to the description of “right arm fast” until a certain Kagiso Rabada helped him reconsider his options by nearly taking his head off with a bouncer at a Coke Schools’ Week.
But the growing pains of injury, being deemed surplus to requirements at a Pro14-bound Kings team and a complete personality overhaul in his playing style have seen to it that he was delayed in taking his place as one of South Africa’s athletic giants.
The greatest change that has happened with Manjezi on his journey is in the way he plays. When he started out as a blindside, he liked the velvety side of the game a little too much.
Watching him play these days, his calling card is setting the physicality tone for his team with early big hits on the opposition, one such memorable occasion being his moving Kings acting head coach Robbi Kempson – no shrinking violet in his playing days – to complain about his blurring the line between physicality and being dirty.
The mentality shift appears to have come from being properly conditioned, which has led to his being of incredible value to his team for the ridiculous amount of work he does on either side of the ball.
The result has been a lock who is a nuisance in the line-out – as a throwing option and a contester – and as the driving force in directing the rolling maul and stopping the opposition’s line-out drive.
Where it gets strange is his ability over the ball, which is right up there with the best openside flankers, despite descending from a height of 1.98m to do it.
Couple that with his carrying and crunching defence, and you have a player who practically does the work of two people on the field.
Long story short, Manjezi is the nearest thing to a complete lock. South Africa is about to find this out.
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