Cape Town - Coenie Oosthuizen already looks a rugby player hell-bent on making up lost ground in 2019.
The barrel-like tighthead prop was among the most eye-catching Sharks performers in their broadly professional, Super Rugby campaign-opening demolition (45-10) of the Sunwolves in Singapore last Saturday.
Modest opposition notwithstanding, the 29-year-old - he hits the 30-mark next month - looked motivated and well-conditioned in the general exchanges and also helped a dominant Sharks effort at scrum time against the Japanese franchise.
Both he and veteran Springbok loose-head Tendai Mtawarira, the latter clearly wishing to steal a march on unusually crocked Bok colleague Steven Kitshoff of the Stormers, got through more than an hour of fine productivity before earning deserved breaks to keep them fresh for tougher tasks immediately ahead: starting with the visit of the rejuvenated Blues to Kings Park this Saturday (15:05 kick-off).
The New Zealand outfit, all too often the weakest in their otherwise juggernaut conference in recent years, have already signalled their intention to change all that during the current season, going down narrowly 24-22 to the defending champion Crusaders in round one before stepping on a long-haul flight to South Africa.
They will step up that quest further in Durban, where they start this time with two formidable All Blacks in the prop berths who were used instead as impact subs against the 'Saders, Karl Tu’inukuafe (currently enjoying his 26th birthday in Durban) and Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
For Oosthuizen, especially, this is a tantalising opportunity to tick the box of confirmation that he is right back in the international picture during World Cup year after his virtual 2018 wipe-out in activity terms.
Former Chiefs star Tu’inukuafe, remember, was one of the most sensational arrivals worldwide on the Test scene last year, quickly becoming a regular for the All Blacks in either the No 1 shirt or as a valued substitute as he amassed 13 caps in his maiden season at the highest level.
Apart from being a bellicose customer in open play, he has noticeably troubled several of South Africa’s better tightheads in the set-piece at Super Rugby level, so if Oosthuizen at least holds him own with his near-130kg frame this weekend and similarly busies himself on the drive and in the tackle, he will clamber back up a few notches in the approval ratings of Bok coach Rassie Erasmus.
As it is, two front-running, home-based Bok tightheads, Frans Malherbe and Wilco Louw, have not yet set the fledgling season alight for differing reasons in the Stormers camp: Malherbe has been curtailed by early niggles while Louw was little more than workmanlike as the starter at No 3 in the unpalatable 40-3 reverse to the Bulls at Loftus.
Indeed, he did not make quite the strides anticipated of him last year, when the 24-year-old - still with time on his side, mind - failed to build significantly on his big breakthrough in green and gold toward the end of 2017.
There are still the claims of someone like Saracens-based Vincent Koch to consider; he made a partial return to the fray at the end of 2018, earning three cracks off the bench on the Boks’ European tour where they earned a patchy two-from-four record.
But Oosthuizen seems well-placed, especially if he grapples impressively with Tu’inukuafe on Saturday, to propel himself back into Springbok plans during 2019.
He was beginning to look much more fully the part as a patient convert from loose-head to tighthead - a necessary development for him on medical grounds - before his knee-ligaments disaster in the third minute of the 2017 Test against Ireland in Dublin that laid him low for some 10 months.
Rosy signs against the Sunwolves were that the big-hearted character is "back".
Maybe we’ll even be able to circle the word spiritedly with a bright marker-pen on Saturday evening?
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phepsi Buthelezi, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Curwin Bosch
15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Substitutes: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Tanielu Tele’a
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