United Rugby Championship

Jersey 13 master and apprentice: Jaque confident Wandi will be Lions' rockstar in Europe

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 18: Wandisile Simelane of the Lions on the attack during the Wandisile Simelane. (Photo by Shaun Roy/Gallo Images)
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 18: Wandisile Simelane of the Lions on the attack during the Wandisile Simelane. (Photo by Shaun Roy/Gallo Images)
  • Wandisile Simelane goes into the URC as arguably the Lions' most prominent player given his recent Springbok experience.
  • As a result, there are high expectations that he should be able to implement his newfound knowledge against some of the best teams in Europe.
  • But, as his defence coach and former Bok legend Jaque Fourie points out, it's not always going to be easy.

Whether he likes it or not, Wandisile Simelane goes into the Lions' inaugural United Rugby Championship campaign as the franchise's resident rockstar.

The 23-year-old midfielder, considered one of the brightest backline prospects in the country, is the only "current" Springbok in the 33-man squad, having been part of the extended group for the series against the British & Irish Lions.

And, having spent several weeks in the world champions' environment, the expectation is now that Simelane is the man to lead the way in the Lions' brave new world in Europe, starting with Friday's opener against Zebre in Parma.

It's a challenge he's embracing, especially since he's now being mentored on defence by a man considered a Springbok legend in the No 13 jersey - Jaque Fourie.

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"My experience with the Springboks was absolutely amazing," said Simelane, tested out at fullback recently in the Currie Cup but most comfortable at outside centre.

"I learnt as much as I possibly could. I took in every single moment from the guys around me and it has definitely affected me in a positive manner.

"The challenge ahead, which I am very excited for, is playing against international players week-in, week-out. There's no better way than testing yourself individually and as a team than playing against the best."

Despite only being part of the Lions' new coaching setup for just over a fortnight, Fourie - a 72-cap Bok and World Cup winner in 2007 - is already waxing lyrical about a player many believe should become an apprentice of him of sorts.

"Wandi, as we all know, is an exciting player," he said.

"I think for us, we want to see him with ball in hand, so hopefully if we do everything that we have planned during the week, our backs can get the ball in their hands with pace and score a few tries."

Appropriately, however, for that to happen, Simelane will have to keep in mind that, much like at Test level, try-scoring opportunities in the URC will be dependent on grinding away first.

"Like Wandi knows, it's going to be tough, but we will have to do the hard work before that in order for our backs to have space. They are going to play against international players week-in, week-out and that's just going to make our players better and give them more experience," said Fourie.

He should know.

The Lions name their team on Thursday.

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