Robert du Preez: Strong, influential... and a Springbok wildcard?

Robert du Preez: Big in England.
Robert du Preez: Big in England.
Alex Davidson
  • Robert du Preez polarised opinion during his time at Western Province and the Sharks, but has made a real impact in England with Sale.
  • Given his size and skillset, the 27-year-old theoretically is close to a like-for-like replacement for Handre Pollard with the Springboks.
  • But even if national ambitions are mere speculation, it is pleasing to see a player of his ability steadily realising his potential.

Mention Robert du Preez to South African rugby supporters and you'd invariably find that they remember his vices instead of his virtues.

They'll point out two of his kicks being charged down on Test debut against Wales in Washington two years ago, handing the Dragons a last-gasp 22-20 win.

Or those days at Newlands and King's Park when his place-kicking radar, seemingly out of nowhere, malfunctioned wildly.

And, of course, the allegations of "nepotism", that he was the proxy in Sharks coach and father, Robert senior's reluctance to give Curwin Bosch the No 10 jersey.

It turns out senior was the common denominator when it came to the two gifted pivots and their struggles.

Once he left, Bosch flourished and finished the shredded Super Rugby campaign as the best flyhalf in the country on form.

Du Preez, meanwhile, had already agreed to make a short-term loan with Sale at the end of 2018 a permanent move last year.

At the time, ahead of his first Champions Cup appearance for the English club, he made no secret of his desire to become part of the Boks' post-World Cup future.

"Rassie has made it clear that he will pick players on form and, players like Cheslin Kolbe, who wasn’t previously in the mix, had an outstanding couple of seasons with Toulouse and was one of best players for the Boks," said Du Preez.

"I can’t speak for my brothers (the talented and brutal twins Dan and Jean-Luc), but if it turns out we play good enough rugby to get back into the Bok mix, then that would be amazing. I haven’t ruled any of that out, but first I have to do my best here at Sale. If it goes well then hopefully other things will happen."

With South Africa's overseas-based contingent likely to be national coach Jacques Nienaber's trump card for the Rugby Championship at the end of the year, Du Preez had, until the English Premiership's Covid-19 suspension, established himself as one of the best flyhalves in the competition.

That makes him an intriguing wildcard for Springbok selection.

Steadily realising his potential

The 27-year-old playmaker, who is actually taller (1.91m) and heftier than Handre Pollard (98kg), is the closest South Africa will come to a like-for-like replacement for the incumbent.

He kicks well out of hand, stands tall in the collisions, relishes attacking the gain-line and his boot, in general, is metronomic.

It's indeed been an impressive 2019/20 campaign for Du Preez.

The former Matie is clearly the brain behind Sale's attacking game, boasting a Premiership-high eight try assists and rounding off two of his own.

Du Preez hasn't thrown a single failed pass in his 174 completed passes, pointing to his effective distribution, while making 187 running metres.

His completed tackle ratio of 84% is respectable.  

A 116-point haul is the second highest for the season to date.

Whether Covid's untimely intrusion has broken Du Preez's momentum remains to be seen.

Springbok speculation is intriguing, but perhaps also fanciful.  

Instead, the real triumph is that a talented player - much maligned for most of his career - is steadily realising his potential.
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