Super Rugby

Stormers: The unwanted 'truck-stop' for Trokkie

Juarno Augustus (Gallo Images)
Juarno Augustus (Gallo Images)

He will hardly be alone among South Africa’s players in lamenting rugby’s shutdown at a time when the 2020 season should be gathering increasing momentum.

But spare a special thought, maybe, for Juarno "Trokkie" Augustus, the wrecking-ball No 8 from the Stormers, who had just played a welcome Super Rugby blinder for the Capetonians despite their 24-14 derby defeat to the Sharks at Kings Park on March 14 ... after which the coronavirus crisis struck global sport with a vengeance.

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Respective, major arm and ankle injuries had wreaked havoc in other ways, remember, with his earliest years in the senior first-class game after the now 22-year-old’s spectacular burst to prominence as the individual star - duly given the official player-of-the-tournament mantle, too - of the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia.

The Baby Boks were nosed out 24-22 by England in a semi-final that year, but went on to claim the bronze medal by comfortably seeing off France 37-15 in the playoff game.

Augustus was consistently to the fore with his combination of dynamism and aggression as a ball-carrier, which also earned him a tourney-leading seven tries in a SA outfit that included other players who have prospered at Super Rugby level subsequently like Curwin Bosch, Ruben van Heerden, Carlu Sadie, Wandisile Simelani and Manie Libbok.

Stormers head coach John Dobson had adopted a sensible, “slow burn” policy with Augustus - helped by having a decent array of squad loose forwards, at least to begin with - at the outset of 2020, in the quest to help his 115kg human brick claw back much lost ground.

The man from the relatively unfashionable rugby environs of Alexander Bay didn’t feature in the season-opening 27-0 thrashing of the Hurricanes at Newlands in the heat of late summer, but then made it onto the bench for the follow-up, 13-0 defeat of compatriots the Bulls.

Augustus was then filtered back into the starting line-up for the next assignments against the Lions, Jaguares and Blues and understandably took some time to find his renowned, maximum mojo.

But considering the dormancy of the competition for what is rapidly approaching two months since, both the player and his coaches and his army of admirers in Cape Town would have been aggrieved in certain ways, really, by his return to stampeding best in the Shark Tank.

His showing had “I’m back” written all over it ... though Augustus might not have fully anticipated at the time that it would also cruelly signal the curtailment, all over again, of his rugby aspirations.
In short, he is almost back in a rehab-style mode, considering the restriction of sportspeople and society in general to largely home-based exercise due to the needs of lockdown at a time when he is crying out for regular, rugged contact play again.

On that day in Durban, Augustus slightly eclipsed the hitherto red-hot - but possibly tiring, after a lengthy sequence of matches without a bye - Sharks No 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, which served further notice of just how assertive he had been against the old coastal enemy.

Notshe and Augustus are poles apart in playing style, with the former much more renowned for his explosive pace, stepping and off-loading finesse, while the latter is more of a Duane Vermeulen-type, “route one” physical beast - while under-rated at peril for the skills side to his own repertoire.

But in their own ways, they offer a potentially bright future in the No 8 role for the Springboks, the world champions who may see little or nothing more of the established iron-man Vermeulen, now almost 34, after the scheduled British and Irish Lions tour of our shores next year.

Augustus is more of a like-for-like factor for the revered 54-cap incumbent, whereas Notshe more closely fits the style of someone like Warren Whiteley, the more subtle former Lions captain and sometimes Test player now sadly pushed into almost certain, slightly premature retirement due to injuries.

The Sharks tearaway will have slightly more enjoyed - if that is the right word to use - the hiatus from rugby after his herculean efforts in helping his franchise to the top of the table before the cut, even if he will also be itching now to get back into action as the indefinite suspension drags on.

But Augustus? Expect that he would have been rather less charmed, considering that he had just seemed to have conquered the demons keeping him off the park for lengthy tracts when the biggest one of all this year paid its burdensome visit to the world ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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