Super Rugby

Six eagerly awaited player returns when SA rugby resumes

Rikus Pretorius (Gallo Images)
Rikus Pretorius (Gallo Images)
  • Even if it's merely a domestic-based Super Rugby shootout, there are several players the rugby public would love to see on the field again when play resumes tentatively in August.
  • Some are 'new' signings, others are returning from injury layoffs and, for some, lockdown just came at a really bad time given their surging form.
  • SA Rugby hopes to get a local Super Rugby tournament off the ground in August.

SA Rugby chief Jurie Roux earlier this week raised the possibility of local rugby resuming in August with a domestic-based Super Rugby tournament.

It's a prospect that will be mouthwatering to a substantial part of the country's rugby community, especially in light of New Zealand's Aotearoa shoot-out commencing this weekend and Australia gearing up for their start next month.

Ironically, the feared Covid-19 "transfer window" - which allowed players to opt out of current agreements unconditionally - didn't quite translate into a mass exodus, meaning the landscape looks reasonably the same.

Nonetheless, there are several men who the public will be eager to see back on the field again, be it after a long injury layoff or a re-signing or simply because everyone wanted to see even more of their good form before the season's shutdown.

Here are the players - one from each of South Africa's six franchises - who'll attract a lot of attention when the action starts.

BULLS: Marco van Staden

It's easy to forget that the tough, compact and versatile flanker was on standby for last year's World Cup squad.

While there's a suspicion that he's not the out-and-out prototype flanker for Jake White, Van Staden has showcased previously that he has many strings to his bow.

His immense work-rate remains intact and his frame means he can still easily get to the breakdown and conjure up some poaching magic.

Pote Human's willingness to use him in all three positions of the loose trio is also a testament to his ability to win his collisions, while the on-field discipline he was exposed to at national level could easily prompt White to look past his size. 

Van Staden will also be considered a senior player in the setup, especially if Duane Vermeulen is used sparingly initially and Arno Botha - still stuck in Ireland due to international travel restrictions - doesn't arrive in time.

(Honorable mention: Vermeulen - Because let's face it, it's Duane!) 

CHEETAHS: Frans Steyn

A second World Cup medal has merely served to entrench the 32-year-old's status as one of South African rugby's cult heroes. 

The burly utility back still harbours ambitions of an international swansong against the British & Irish Lions next year and coming up against some of his direct competitors would certainly do his cause no harm.

Steyn's ability to show a cool head and be a dependable - even risk-free - impact option made him a vital cog in the Boks' World Cup assault, but there were also brief glimpses of the enduring X-factor, particularly in the less-pressured outings.

It's that trait local fans will be hoping to see in the domestic competition, the sight of an audacious drop goal or a powerful incursion into the line, even if the pace isn't quite there anymore.

(Honorable mention: Rhyno Smith - Just to show the Sharks and the rest what they missed out on after his storming first season in Europe.)

KINGS: Yaw Penxe

Nimble and skilful, the 23-year-old former Junior Springbok has had two seasons blighted by injury.

However, that doesn't mean he hasn't made his mark in the slower, more gritty environment of the Pro14.

Penxe remains a finisher of note, notably dotting down eight times during the 2018/19 campaign despite missing a large chunk at the start.

The truncated current season also saw him only start five matches due to continued niggles though the extended break would've been good for the body.

It's no secret that Penxe remains a so-called PONI, or Player of National Interest, and the opportunity to compete against heavyweights such as Seabelo Senatla, S'bu Nkosi, Madosh Tambwe, Gio Aplon, Sergeal Petersen and Courtnall Skosan could be an ideal gauge to determine how he's progressing.  

(Honorable mention: Schalk Ferreira - The grizzled, evergreen 36-year-old veteran who can still teach SA's emerging batch of props a thing or two.)

LIONS: Jaco Kriel

If there's an embodiment of the Ellis Park-based franchise's brand, it's Kriel.

The bustling flanker has had wretched luck with injury over the past 24 months after seemingly setting himself up to become a regular international under Allister Coetzee in 2017.

The 30-year-old admits he's still the instinctive, all-action exponent who invariably finds himself in the backline, but his stint in the Green-and-Gold as well as Gloucester has developed him into a rounded player that can do the basics well too.

He enjoys massive respect from his teammates and is the galvanising leader a Lions squad in transition needs in the post Warren Whiteley era.

Plus, you won't find many South African rugby fans who don't like him overall...

(Honorable mention: Carlu Sadie - Having emerged as one of SA's best tighthead prospects in 2019, he'll now want a platform to consolidate from.)   

SHARKS: Sikhumbuzo Notshe

If there was a proverbial comeback story for 2020, Notshe would be it.

The 26-year-old enjoyed a memorable revival during the Super Rugby, undoubtedly emerging as the best No 8 in the country.

One of the keys to that process was giving Notshe not only extended game-time, but also role clarity.

He was allowed to call shots in the back row and was extensively used as a linking player on attack, one of his strengths.

But the former Stormer also increasingly asserted himself as a physical presence and was rapidly approaching peak form in the latter weeks of Super Rugby.

Lockdown came at an extremely poor time for him.

(Honorable mention: Werner Kok - Can the Blitzbok legend force himself into a star-laden backline, especially with Andre Esterhuizen's departure?) 

STORMERS: Rikus Pretorius

1.93m, 104kg. 

The 21-year-old former Junior Springbok midfielder is one hell of a physical specimen and now, with Welsh legend Jamie Roberts back in the UK, in the inside lane to start building a career rich in promise.

Pretorius was immense at junior level as a ball-carrying inside centre, regularly dominant in contact, but also deft in terms of distribution.

Despite his age, he was already on SA Rugby's PONI list in 2019 and it's understood that Rassie Erasmus and co are eager for the Grey College school captain to start playing regularly. Local rugby - with it's foremost imposing inside centres in Damian de Allende and Esterhuizen overseas - will be too.

(Honorable mention: Damian Willemse - Has lockdown helped him deal with some confidence issues as he seeks to become a star pivot?) 

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