Legendary Matfield hails Bulls star Nortje as Bok-in-waiting, but who will he dislodge?

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Ruan Nortje. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
Ruan Nortje. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
  • Springbok legend Victor Matfield believes star Bulls lock Ruan Nortje is one of the more realistic newbies to stake a claim for the national team.
  • But he cautions that the 23-year-old - who reminds him of Franco Mostert - probably won't dislodge the current group of world-class exponents.
  • Jean de Villiers believes the Bok midfield is similarly sewn up though he's excited by Damian Willemse's progress at No 12.

He's lanky, he's got pace to burn, he's a superb organiser at the set-piece and he's poached opposition ball at will at times in the United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign.

It's little wonder legendary Bulls and Springbok lock Victor Matfield raves over Ruan Nortje, who's emerged as a star for his former franchise.

The 23-year-old second rower previously chuckled at his earlier attempts to add some bulk to his beanpole frame - his coaches told him at one stage that he's simply burning too much energy on the field - but at 2m and 113kg has now become a physical specimen that dominates.

In fact, Nortje draws widespread comparisons with Springbok incumbent Franco Mostert, a similarly tireless and unassuming player who simply couldn't be ignored eventually and has become an international stalwart.

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"I really believe that Ruan has been unbelievable this URC season," Matfield said at the launch of SA Rugby and Betway's partnership to empower coaches in the local women's game.

"He reminds one really a lot of Franco. Ruan's work rate is amazing. He completes a lot of tackles and manages the Bulls' line-out really well.

"If there's one guy who could realistically stake a claim for Bok selection [in the upcoming series against Wales]."

Matfield though has a tough time believing national coach Jacques Nienaber won't stick to his tried-and-tested, classy group of locks.

"Let's be honest, it's going to be very difficult to dislodge the existing guys. Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager are arguably two of the best locks in world rugby and then you have Franco in the bag as well.

"When RG Snyman returns and is fit, he's an automatic pick too. You have to wonder who Ruan would be able to dislodge?"

Similarly, Matfield's great Bok team-mate Jean de Villiers argues the midfield positions are pretty much sewn up by the dovetailing duo of Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.

England-based Andre Esterhuizen, crowned the RPA players' Player of the Year this week, is surely in line for a recall following his magnificent form for Harlequins.

De Villiers, however, wouldn't mind seeing Stormers ace Damian Willemse get a shot in the No 12 jersey at some stage.

"Damian looks good at inside centre. I think it’s his best position because it brings a better balance to his game," he said.

"But can you put him above Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am? They pick themselves. Wandi Simelane has a lot of talent, yet he’s been a bit of a disappointment for the Lions this season. Maybe his game has been influenced by the speculation over his future."  

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