CAPE TOWN – With Super Rugby almost at the halfway mark and suspended due to the coronavirus, it’s an ideal time to look at the Springboks’ options in each position for new head coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus ahead of the Tests against Scotland.
We will take a look at the leading player in each position this season at the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, and make our final selection. Let’s look at inside centre…
Bulls: Burger Odendaal
The Bulls captain has been laid low by an ankle injury that has seen him feature in just three out of six matches this season. And losing their first four matches didn’t help the men from Loftus Versfeld either.
But Odendaal was his usual busy self in those three games. He ran hard at the defence with 16 carries, although he would be disappointed with the tackles missed tally of four.
He perhaps needs to add a bit of skill and creativity to his repertoire to become a realistic option for the Springboks.
Lions: Dan Kriel
The move from the Stormers to the Lions has worked out well for Kriel on a personal level. While the Joburg side have won just once, he has played in all six matches compared to the odd appearance at Newlands. Although not as quick as twin brother and Springbok Jesse, Dan is a willing ball-carrier who is not shy to get stuck in to the opposition.
He has made eight tackle-busts in his 41 runs, and puts in a healthy shift in defence as well.
New Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber to focus on ‘transformation’
Newly-appointed Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber says he will focus on “transformation” for the South African rugby team to “keep on winning”. He replaces Rassie Erasmus who led the squad to victory in the last World Cup.
A gangly figure at full tilt, the tall former SA Under-20 centre maybe needs to put some of his outside runners into space a bit more to push for a Test berth.
Sharks: Andre Esterhuizen
The big No 12 has been an absolute machine for the Sharks this season. Renowned as a ‘battering ram’ up the middle, Esterhuizen has proved that he does have the ability to get the ball away in the tackle with a couple of timely offloads.
That is in addition to his usual bulldozing of defenders, where he has made an eye-catching 13 tackle-busts from 40 carries in combination with Bok star Lukhanyo Am.
Esterhuizen has also dished out a remarkable 52 tackles in his seven matches, while he has displayed a more than useful left boot as well when needed.
The fact that the Sharks are playing such flowing rugby means that the 26-year-old midfielder is doing his job with aplomb.
Stormers: Jamie Roberts
Okay, he is a Welsh legend and British and Irish Lions stalwart, but Roberts has been outstanding for the Capetonians. What has been refreshing about his play is that he has varied his game much more than before.
Yes, those powerful surges up the middle are still evident, but Roberts has pulled off some classy offloads in the tackle, and is also able to send the ball down the backline.
The 33-year-old Roberts, who has played in 97 Tests, appears to be revitalised at the Stormers. He has made an impressive 42 carries – which puts him among the top 10 centres in the tournament – and nine tackle-busts in six appearances.
The 1.93m, 110kg midfielder is a strong defender who has pulled off 40 tackles.
Andre Esterhuizen has taken his game to a new level by adding a touch of skill to his power game, and is seriously challenging Damian de Allende for the Bok No 12 jersey.
Statistics: super.rugby and foxsports.com.au
By Ashfak Mohamed