Rugby Championship

Nicolaas who? Jake hails the 'shy Affies boy' who's on the verge of becoming a Bok

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Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
  • Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg's potential Test debut for the Springboks against Argentina this weekend has once again shed light on how little is known about him in local circles.
  • But one man who knows the 27-year-old lock well is Jake White, the Bulls' director of rugby, who signed him for Montpellier back in 2016.
  • White says Janse van Rensburg has grown a lot as a player and that he can feature in a national squad with many gifted locks is testament to his ability.

When Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg's name was read out as part of the Springboks' extended squad in the build-up to the British & Irish Lions series, many were asking the same question: "Who?"

For the past six weeks, the 27-year-old has continued to steadily flow under the radar as he's done for the past five years before the local rugby community were rudely reminded of him again after he was included in the match-23 for Saturday's Rugby Championship meeting with Argentina.

Who is this guy?

As it turns out, Jake White is one of the few locals who know quite well what the towering but versatile second rower is all about - he was the man that signed him as a 22-year-old at Montpellier back in 2016.

"I'm very proud of him. He's gone a different route to many other players," said the former Springbok coach, nowadays the Bulls' director of rugby.

"Nicolaas went away and grew up. He was a youngster when he arrived. 

"He's hung in and grown as a player, he's even married now with a kid. That's a far cry from the young blonde-haired boy from Affies who arrived in France."

The irony about Janse van Rensburg's move to the south of France was that while White's offer was a shrewd one, it wasn't exactly a shot in the dark.

It's true that the man from Pretoria is in an age category studded with brilliant local locks: RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, JD Schickerling and even Jean-Luc du Preez.

However, Janse van Rensburg was also a key member of the gifted 2014 Junior Springbok vintage that missed out on the world title by a whisker.

Yet White is too intimately familiar with South Africa's playing resources not to know that even a relatively understated Baby Bok is still a far more secure investment than others.

Montpellier would secure a long-term prospect and Janse van Rensburg, if he were patient, would be on his way to becoming a sought-after talent in the lucrative French Top14.

"Nicolaas never really put up his hand before then. He was always there or thereabouts, but playing in a country where his age group had such unbelievable locks," said White.

"He arrived as a prospect to become a JIFF player, which essentially means that if you join a French team's academy and spend enough time there, you actually become a really sought-after player because you become a home-grown product after a few years. He had to make a lot of sacrifices."

As it turned out, Janse van Rensburg has become a stalwart for a team not exactly known for its stability, becoming so accomplished that he's now rubbing shoulders with the team-mates and opponents many felt would keep him out of the national frame.

"His point of difference is that he can play lock and 7 (flank). He's grown in calling lineouts, taking charge and carrying the ball," said White.

"He was quiet and reserved when he got there, but he learnt to cope. The French league is tough, playing Brive and Grenoble away in the Alps, where it's freezing and there's snow on the mountains, you've got to grow a bit.

"You can't get through that by coasting. I'm sure he's tougher and wiser. He's learnt to play with and against some of the best players in the world. Montpellier played Champions Cup after all too."

That's why Springbok fans shouldn't be concerned that Janse van Rensburg will be overawed in Gqeberha.

"I've got no doubt he'll cope and hold his own. To have him on that list of excellent South Africa locks is only going to make him better and the Springbok team environment more competitive," said White.

Kick-off is at 17:05.

Teams:

Springboks

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Trevor Nyakane

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Dan du Preez, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Damian Willemse

Argentina 

TBA

 

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