Rainbow Cup

From the new Os du Randt to John Smit: Merry-go-round continues for Bulls' prodigy

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Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Photo by Christiaan Kotze/Gallo Images)
Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Photo by Christiaan Kotze/Gallo Images)
  • Prop prodigy Jan-Hendrik Wessels played at hooker in club rugby this past weekend in yet another positional switch for the gifted Bulls front rower.
  • Franchise mentor Jake White explained that the switch is similar to legendary Bok skipper John Smit's - a move designed to get him into senior rugby as quickly as possible.
  • White reiterated that it's not a sign of him becoming impatient with a youngster already burdened with high expectations.

When Jan-Hendrik Wessels was unexpectedly included on the bench for the Bulls' first match under Jake White's coaching last September, the then 19-year-old loosehead was hailed as the new Os du Randt.

Eight months later, the gifted former Grey College star played at hooker for Pretoria Rugby Club this past weekend in a move the Bulls director of rugby describes as similar to legendary Springbok captain John Smit.

It might seem like an innocuous move at first glance, but becomes far more complex when one considers Wessels has also previously been shifted to tighthead, notably in a Currie Cup match against the Pumas where he and his fellow team-mates got hammered.

Is the cursed of versatility going to befall him too?

READ | The new Os du Randt and 'Rocket Man' - Jake White's young Bulls bolters this weekend

"My thoughts are very positive in this regard because I put him in that position," said White.

"I've been training him at hooker and now our club system has allowed him to go play there too. Our club system is working so well at the moment so it was ideal for him to go there and see how it goes.

"Jan-Hendrik's a good rugby player, I've said it to you many times."

The World Cup-winning former Springbok coach, who built his glorious vintage of players around the inspirational Smit, explained that Wessels' switch is not about any sort of lack of natural ability.

"It was much like John's moved from tighthead to hooker as a junior all those years back," said White.

"John was always going to make it, it was just to find a way for him to make it quicker rather than later. Jan-Hendrik is exactly the same.

"If I look at the looshead props - and I'm not for one minute saying he can't make it as a front rower, I'm just trying every avenue - you've got a national group that includes Steven Kitshoff, Lizo Gqoboka, Sti Sithole and Ox Nche. Those are just a few players ahead of him in the No 1 jersey.

"We also have Gerhard Steenekamp and Simphiwe Matanzima. It's highly unlikely Jan-Hendrik will leap ahead of them. It's a tough ask."

With the technical intricacies of tighthead also proving a hurdle, the No 2 jersey has been identified as the position where Wessels, a behemoth at 1.93m and 120kg, might have his bread buttered.

Given that hooker is one of the Bulls' positions where there talent is still more raw than proven, it's arguably a decent course of action.

However, is White's perceived hastiness to find a suitable spot for his big-name youngster a sign of impatience?

"No, I don't know why some will feel it's the case. Jan-Hendrik's name is going to be written about for many years. He's going to be a Springbok that plays 100 Tests, I can assure you of that," he said.

"He's such a good player, so versatile. I know he can play hooker, [the past weekend wasn't] a trial for him. He can do everything.

"My patience won't wear thin. Imagine if he can scrum against two 30-plus props and a 40-year-old hooker, it would be great for him. The quicker he learns, the better.

"He's so talented, I've got to find a place for him."

By all accounts, Wessels is - according to White - not bothered by the merry-go-round himself.

"He's has an attribute that's the same with all the greatest players I've ever coached. He doesn't worry about age and pecking orders. He tells you in a non-arrogant way that he wants to play," said the Bulls mentor.

"I've had that with Schalk Burger and John Smit and others. He's making it difficult, I have to find him a spot."

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