Cape Town - If Springbok squad places were heavily influenced by Super Rugby player statistics, then Sharks No 8 Dan du Preez ought to be close to a shoe-in for selection for the condensed 2019 Rugby Championship starting in July.
At this fairly advanced stage of ordinary season, the big loose forward is close to the top of several categories in the franchise-based competition, including being the premier South African in some of them.
What we already know from both 23-year-old Dan and his twin brother and blindside flank Jean-Luc is that they aren’t the flashiest of forwards, usually more renowned for bruising activity at close quarters.
But the eighth-man has been especially, strikingly industrious for the Sharks so far as they advance to within five matches of completing their initial roster and being in a good position to clinch a playoffs berth.
They lie fifth overall at present, and will attempt against the labouring Chiefs on Saturday (09:35 SA time) to complete a three-match Australasian tour unbeaten: they have already beaten the Waratahs and earned a fighting 21-21 draw with defending champions the Crusaders.
Du Preez put up a highly credible showing in the exciting stalemate in Christchurch, where he was directly up against the home side’s in-form All Black veteran and legend Kieran Read.
The Sharks collectively worked their socks off to earn the mild-surprise outcome, and the Durban-born combatant was in his own element as a result; yeoman graft has featured pleasingly on his CV, campaign-long.
Although the feat might be considered a bit of a indictment of South African teams’ overall lack of an attacking spark this season - especially in backline terms - Du Preez is currently the country’s leading try-scorer in Super Rugby with six, placing him equal ninth competition-wide and the lone player from our shores in the top 10 of the category.
But his more renowned hallmarks lie in other areas, and the No 8 lies second, for instance, only to the Reds’ midfield powerhouse Samu Kerevi (154) for most carries - he boasts 126 of his own.
Although he is ranked outside the top 10, Du Preez has also been doing more than his bit on the tackle front, where his reported tally of 95 places him second in a SA context only to Bok flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit (113, and fifth equal tournament-wide).
For good measure, he is joint-sixth for most offloads with 13, smack alongside fellow best-ranked compatriots Dillyn Leyds of the Stormers and the Lions’ stalwart fullback Andries Coetzee.
While Bulls heavyweight figure Duane Vermeulen is rightly still considered the head of the Bok pecking order at eighth-man, and popular, roaming-style Lions captain Warren Whiteley will also challenge strongly again once he can put a mini-spate of injury setbacks behind him shortly, Du Preez (112kg, 1.97m) is the closest to a like-for-like, viable alternative physically to Vermeulen of the home-based players in the position.
He has only turned out once in the green and gold jersey since Rassie Erasmus assumed the head coach role last year, earning a fourth cap overall as he began at No 8 in the experimental once-off against Wales in Washington DC in early June.
The Boks were edged out 22-20 in the relatively low-value exercise, and none of starting loosies Du Preez, Kwagga Smith or Oupa Mohoje, for varying reasons, have featured prominently again under Erasmus’s tenure subsequently.
But the Sharks man certainly has age well on his side for a recall to the Test picture in 2019 and beyond, especially if he keeps up his consistently admirable work ethic one tier down ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing