Boks get a touch of 'Skinstad' back

Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Gallo Images)
Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - He is there because of someone else's misfortune, but the time seems right nevertheless for Sikhumbuzo Notshe to grasp the Springbok nettle.

The rangy Stormers player is a largely like-for-like stand-in for more experienced No 8 Warren Whiteley, earning his maiden start in the process, in the Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday (17:05).

Just as he was building a heartening head of fresh steam in the green and gold jersey, a groin problem has cruelly laid low the popular Lions front-man for the weekend.

But it has opened the door to Notshe, 25, for a fifth cap and first opportunity to grace the run-out XV.

This all seems a bit sudden, when you bear in mind that he is not among the current top two men in the Springbok pecking order at eighth-man - currently unavailable juggernaut Duane Vermeulen, plus Whiteley - but at the same time we will get a glimpse in Port Elizabeth of a possibly sparkling, reassuring future there.

After all, globetrotter Vermeulen is no spring chicken at 32 and the more light-on-his-feet Whiteley also only in the market, you'd think, for one more World Cup campaign in Japan next year - he is 31.

It will not have escaped Notshe's attention that, down at Newlands only three hours before Saturday's Test kicks off, Western Province meet the Sharks in a key Currie Cup match, and two other, high-quality emerging No 8s appealingly go head to head (it could be quite bone-crunching) in the shape of Juarno "Trokkie" Augustus and the visitors' Dan du Preez.

Notshe replaced the latter, incidentally, in the 56th minute of the dubious exercise against Wales in Washington DC in early June, to make his first Test appearance.

He has subsequently earned three more cracks off the bench, all in the victorious series against England; Notshe got on after 70 minutes in Johannesburg, and replaced Capetonian colleague and Bok captain Siya Kolisi on the side of the scrum (he is a versatile loosie) from around the 65th minute at both Bloemfontein and the dead-rubber game in the rain at Newlands.

I have said this before but it is perhaps worth repeating on this landmark occasion for the former Wynberg Boys' High School pupil: there are strong shades of Bob Skinstad, the charismatic former

Stormers and Bok leader, in Notshe's game, and more especially when he is able to demonstrate his athletic skills in suitably generous space.

He can be the most elusive, wicked-stepping of ball carriers when a game is fluid and fast-paced, something that was a near-constant hallmark of Skinstad before his massively unfortunate car crash and bad knee injury that forced more pragmatic alterations to his game.

The 10-year international (albeit interrupted) eventually remodelled himself into a more "close quarters" sort of contributor, whether at No 8 or blindside flank.

The funny thing is that, although he has had no such ill-luck on our often treacherous roads, Notshe has also, increasingly, learned to get more involved at the coalface ... including in occasional stationing as a No 6 pilferer, although his 1.90m height hardly makes him a natural fit for that pretty specialist job.

His game has become more rounded this year, making him more consistently noticeable, whether for his franchise or in those fleeting (up to now) Bok appearances from the splinters.

But if the game on Saturday is played in agreeable conditions - the forecast suggests sunshine and a light to moderate breeze - the game-breaking qualities of the rookie could just be in evidence to the discomfort of the Wallabies.

I steadfastly feel we haven't seen the maximum potential of slightly slow-burning Notshe yet ... not by a long shot.

Is that, just possibly, imminent in the Eastern Cape metropolis, not much more than two hours' drive from his King William's Town roots?

It will be worth watching, if so.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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