WP: Vroom ... time for Trokkie's engine

Juarno Augustus (Gallo Images)
Juarno Augustus (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It has almost felt as if the World Rugby Under-20 Championship player of the tournament in 2017 was suddenly whisked away to another planet for a year or more.

That considerable accolade was bestowed on Juarno "Trokkie" Augustus, the juggernaut Western Province-based eighth-man, upon completion of the annual event in Georgia last year.

Understandably, swift higher-level success was quickly anticipated of the rampaging phenomenon: he was already a 111kg, reasonably low-centre-of-gravity dynamo as a ball-carrier.

Certainly there was absolutely no cause to feel it would be physically premature to expose him to the hurly-burly of first-class rugby, given his unusually powerful build from head to toe.

Indeed, some critics were even brazenly touting a significant fast-tracking of him to the stuttering Springbok squad, then still under the head coaching charge of Allister Coetzee.

He had been a sensational "runaway pantechnicon" at the U20 jamboree, notching seven tries in the five matches played by South Africa, including at least one in every match as opponents found it painfully difficult to bring his formidable thighs to the turf.

But injuries just as quickly intervened to lay Augustus low for the lion's share of the following year.

It will have been a frustrating period for the player from unfashionable Alexander Bay - 789km up the west coast from his Capetonian rugby base - considering the expectation being built up around him.

Who knows, though: might the layoff almost have been a blessing in disguise? A chance to just ease the hype a tad, and allow him to gradually break into the Stormers/WP senior culture in a more measured way?

Whatever the merits or demerits of that argument, he now appears ready for what will be a maiden, "proper" Currie Cup campaign in 2018, and aged much nearer to 21 than 20 (the proverbial key of the door comes in December for him).

Augustus announcing himself in this Currie Cup for the defending champions will be important for several reasons, as the honchos at strife-torn Newlands try to use it as a stepping stone to a much better Super Rugby campaign by the Stormers next year.

Not only will he have the chance to confirm his potential for both Capetonian jerseys, but any signs of true promise over the next few weeks will also go some way to allaying, for 2019, fears over depth at No 8 at the old stadium.

Him prospering would be so well-timed because the intelligent Nizaam Carr, albeit a different beast in playing style and build, has left for foreign climes (Wasps in the English Premiership) after seven years of almost unfailingly yeoman service.

Yes, Augustus is rather more of a "route one" ball-carrier at this stage - though expect him to pick up certain subtleties as he learns his senior trade - whereas Carr was a clever stepper and generally rangier link man.

But there will also be some need for the youngster to demonstrate his mongrel, something that shouldn't be especially difficult, as he may well be regarded - taxing mantle though it would be - as the Stormers' compensation next year for not luring big, gnarly Springbok veteran Duane Vermeulen back to Newlands.

Although not official yet, it seems highly likely that Vermeulen will resurface in Super Rugby with the Bulls instead next year.

After all, part of WP president Thelo Wakefield's justification for possibly not re-recruiting Vermeulen, a few months ago, was that it would impede Augustus' development ... even if some might have viewed that as an oversight of some note by the burly boss when you consider how beneficial Vermeulen could potentially be in a mentoring capacity for the youngster.

Still, the way seems reasonably clear for Augustus to build up toward snaring that No 8 Stormers jersey as his own next year, despite certain other challengers like adaptable, pacey loosie Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

He has been named in the WP spot by coach John Dobson for Saturday's opening fixture by them at Newlands against Free State.

The weather forecast is lamentably lousy, too - near gale-force wind, rain - suggesting Augustus' power play at close quarters will come in extremely handy ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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