Springboks

Bok tour: Nkosi’s right stuff at 14

S’bu Nkosi (Gallo Images)
S’bu Nkosi (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - He may well have booked his return to the Springbok right-wing spot already.

But if he hasn’t, a rousing Currie Cup final against Western Province at Newlands on Saturday (16:00) should be the clincher for powerful young Sharks player S’bu Nkosi to wear No 14 in the key European tour opener against England at Twickenham on November 3.

If that happens, it would mean the reasonably rare phenomenon - considering the demise or at very least shrinkage of the bilateral Test tour in modern times - of his first four caps all coming against the same foes.

The English would be all too aware of what to expect of him ... but then he would be pretty wise to whatever threats they pose on their illustrious home paddock, too.

Nkosi earned his first taste of international rugby in the memorable June home series against Eddie Jones’s charges and certainly didn’t disappoint in the 2-1 triumph - explaining his presence in all three contests.

He certainly launched his green-and-gold career with a bang, scoring two tries in the pulsating 42-39 victory in the first Test at Emirates Airline Park.

But then any chance of follow-up promise in the 2018 Rugby Championship was scuppered when an ankle injury arrested the 22-year-old’s momentum for a frustrating couple of months.

He has been back, and increasingly restoring his mojo, in the Currie Cup and only underlined that hallmark with a rousing semi-final performance in the Sharks’ 33-24 quelling of the Lions in Durban last Saturday.

Nkosi was also active in the try column, with another brace to his own name and a general sparkle and urgency to his game.

Especially pleasing was the strong-thighed wing’s relish - and often enough mastery - in one-on-one contact situations, which are exactly the sort of qualities required on the often slower, wet pitches of the northern hemisphere.

Former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, who had a great record with the national side in Europe, reminded only the other day on Sport24 how Tests there are often won through “arm-wrestles” and the 97kg Nkosi fits the bill for those purposes.

He is increasingly learning to put those physical qualities to good advantage in 50-50 contest situations after kick chases, for example.

Additionally, Test tries in the northern hemisphere often have to be manufactured in the tightest of space, and with bodily strength and commitment critical at the corner flag.  

All that said, the Sharks man recapturing the No 14 jersey after missing six Tests is not quite a fait accompli: there is the matter to contend with of pushing out the slippery but considerably smaller incumbent Cheslin Kolbe.

Former Newlands favourite Kolbe, who can claim useful wisdom of European conditions through his stationing these days at Toulouse, has been credible - at worst? - in successive home starts there against Australia and New Zealand.

But if coach Rassie Erasmus feels he needs to beef up his back three a bit for the November pilgrimage, then Nkosi’s “grunt” on one of the wings (it makes him a good foil for tearaway No 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, who he coincidentally marked at Kings Park a few days ago) could tilt the decision.

Dyantyi’s electricity on attack and poaching capabilities have drawn inevitable comparisons with Bryan Habana, and bear in mind that the Test great once also dovetailed pleasingly at Test level with a bigger unit, JP Pietersen, as his ally on the right.

Toulon-based Pietersen, who last played for the Boks at the end of 2016, has drifted off the Bok radar in recent times and, at 32, doesn’t have age on his side for any recall prospect.

Jesse Kriel (just for one Test, against the All Blacks in the huge Wellington upset) and currently injured Makazole Mapimpi have also seen service at No 14 for the Boks in the period while Nkosi has been sidelined.

But the former, another muscle-laden figure, has been making a promising, fresh fist of life at outside centre so that status probably won’t change immediately on the Euro tour.

It seems like Kolbe v Nkosi for No 14 at Twickers, and the way could be even clearer for Nkosi’s comeback if there are any hassles over his rival’s availability for game one because it falls outside the Test window period ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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