Super Rugby

Wunderkind Juarno to bolster Stormers

Cape Town – Will he be fast-tracked to Super Rugby action as swiftly as for the business end of the 2017 competition?

More pertinently, perhaps, will he even stay for a significant period at Newlands?

Those are bound to be questions on the lips of Stormers supporters as strapping, 19-year-old sensation Juarno Augustus prepares to return to a deserved, popular welcome here on Tuesday from the World Rugby Under20 Championship.

Despite the Junior Springboks not making the final – they ended up as bronze medallists – the brawny No 8 was named player of the tournament in Georgia.

He scored seven tries in the five SA matches, including at least one in every game.

The tree trunk-framed No 8, a product of the same school (Tygerberg High) that brought through established senior Springbok hard man Eben Etzebeth, will spark near-inevitable interest both domestically and abroad after his fiery, dynamic showings in the tournament.

Reasonably reassuring news for Western Province and Stormers enthusiasts is that he is currently contracted to Newlands until the end of next year.

“Juarno is a special talent who made great strides last year at the Western Province Rugby Institute,” WP director of rugby Gert Smal told Sport24 in a statement.

“He was a key player in the DHL WP U19 team and a made a big impression in pre-season training with the Stormers, which shows that our system is working well.

“It is fantastic to see how he has built on that with some outstanding performances for the Junior Springboks and we look forward to watching him grow further in the years to come.”

Smal’s words seem to suggest that WP -- often previously under fire for the number of quality players, either young or more experienced, who leave the fold -- are intent on clutching onto their emerging gem for a significantly longer period than just the end of next season.

The 116kg Augustus, born in reasonably unfashionable Alexander Bay almost 800km north-west of Cape Town, has not yet been capped at either top-tier Currie Cup or Super Rugby level.

His obvious promise may send certain shivers down the spines of Newlands fans, given how a prior winner of the World Rugby U20 player of the year award, flyhalf Handre Pollard, was snapped up by the Bulls in 2012, despite his schooling at Paarl Gym.

But WP Rugby are regrouping after their controversial liquidation late last year, helped by the financial assistance of major stakeholders Remgro, the investment holding company, and have insisted that they intend amassing a squad capable of reaching the 2018 final.

Presumably a fast-emerging young gun like Augustus would be a key component of such a quest.

The Stormers are also still in with a shout at the 2017 honours, even if they are not considered among the favourites to lift the title; they do have another home quarter-final already sealed although any onward passage would probably involve taxing overseas travel.

With remaining ordinary-season games against the Cheetahs (away), Sunwolves (home) and Bulls (away) ahead of that knockout date, it will be interesting to see whether head coach Robbie Fleck is charmed for selection purposes by the robust qualities offered by rookie Augustus, or whether they wait to blood him in next year’s competition, by which time he will have turned 20.

Finding the correct balance in the loose trio, especially with regard to physical needs, has been relatively elusive this season, despite the availability (when fit) of players like Nizaam Carr and Sikhumbuzo Notshe for the No 8 spot.

Both are fairly rangy, athletic eighth-men, whereas Augustus is naturally rather closer in playing style to someone like Duane Vermeulen, the powerful Bok who now plies his trade with Toulon after seven years at Newlands.

Both the Stormers and WP have traditionally not been shy to resort to their more junior ranks at times of need, and if Augustus happened to play Super Rugby aged 19 it would hardly be a unique development.

A few years ago, (the now-returning) front-ranker Steven Kitshoff got special permission to play for the Stormers as an 18-year-old.

*Last week, England coach Eddie Jones handed a debut full international cap to 18-year-old flank Tom Curry for the first Test against Argentina in San Juan.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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