Boks: Has Big Trevor's time finally come?

Trevor Nyakane (Getty Images
Trevor Nyakane (Getty Images

Cape Town - The best he might get against the All Blacks at Wellington on Saturday is a bench spot in this climate of widespread rotation of Springbok resources.

Not that Trevor Nyakane would mutter too acidly if that’s what transpires: he is extraordinarily used to being deployed as an “impact player”.

In 38 appearances thus far in national colours, the popular front-ranker has been a substitute 35 times (92.10 percent of a Test career stretching back to debut in 2013).

That period spans three Bok coaches, and both Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee overwhelmingly used him in that capacity.

Last Saturday at Ellis Park against Australia, though, not only marked Nyakane’s first start as a tighthead for South Africa but also his first opportunity to serve current mastermind Rassie Erasmus after a false start last season: he had been picked in the starting line-up for the first Test of the compelling England series - also in Johannesburg - only to succumb at the eleventh hour to a rib injury that really put paid to the remainder of the 2018 international campaign for him.

Now 30, the burly campaigner had previously sampled Bok “first XV” status twice, in his prior days as a specialist loose-head: first against Italy at Padova in 2014 (12th cap, with Coenie Oosthuizen at No 3) and then Argentina in Buenos Aires in 2015 (16th cap, and now reasonably forgotten Marcel van der Merwe the tighthead).

But 21 further appearances as a “splinters” man then followed, before his landmark appearance in a No 3 jersey against the Wallabies in Saturday’s widely-acclaimed 35-17 triumph featuring Erasmus’s present, split-resources selection policy.

Nyakane was a bastion of scrummaging stability in the anchorman capacity as he got the rare treat, at least in a green-and-gold context, of almost 55 minutes of activity before making way – as tightheads so often do at roughly that mark - for Saracens’ equally industrious on the evening Vincent Koch.

While the Wallabies are seldom renowned for their force in that particular department, he looked extremely comfortable in his direct tussle with James Slipper, no shrinking violet and holder of 87 international caps.

Nyakane’s showing was enough to remind the Stormers’ Frans Malherbe, among an advance guard sent to NZ and tipped to operate at No 3 against the All Blacks, that he will need to keep his socks up, as it were, in the keenly-awaited Cake Tin clash (09:35 SA time).

At least one World Cup 1995-winning Bok tight forward, now SuperSport pundit Kobus Wiese, seemingly rated his set-piece performance sufficient to warrant Nyakane keeping the role this weekend, despite acknowledgement that it is unlikely to occur as Erasmus continues with his experimentation and rotating in advance of RWC 2019.

The big former lock had Nyakane at No 3, instead of Malherbe, in a “preferred” combo (rather than the anticipated one) named on the Afrikaans chat show SuperRugby on Monday night.

While Nyakane may not even receive any game time in Wellington if Erasmus starts with Malherbe and then gives Koch more second-half duty, it can hardly be disputed that the Bulls stalwart – he started every possible Super Rugby game this season - is now in a pleasing state of conditioning and getting more and more technically-proficient with the specialist demands of tighthead.

At very least, he looks a healthy bet now to earn World Cup squad selection, especially given the attribute of still being able to double as an emergency loosehead if required.

His low centre of gravity - at 1.78m, which makes him well shorter than Malherbe (1.90m), just for starters - makes him difficult for a rival loosehead to get a handle on and dominate.

Nyakane can also quite confidently be said now to have eclipsed two other “converted” loosehead props (the Sharks-based pair of Oosthuizen and Thomas du Toit) for satisfying scrum-time adjustment to the other side of the furnace, which also helps to clear his way for a more productive onward passage with the Boks ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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