Cape Town - Jan-Hendrik Wessels has such an impressive junior pedigree that Jake White once said that the youngster reminds him of Os du Randt.
He has almost done it all coming through the youth ranks, and is now trying to find his way in the big bad world of professional rugby.
It hasn’t quite gone according to plan for him at senior level just yet. After completing his schooling at Grey College in Bloemfontein, Wessels joined the Bulls as a powerhouse loosehead prop.
Then there were ideas of turning him into a tighthead, and the latest mission is hooker. He hasn’t really been given a series of consecutive games to settle in one position, and injuries have affected his progress as well.
But as Wessels will turn 21 on Sunday, Satrurday’s Currie Cup clash against Griquas at Loftus Versfeld (5pm kick-off) is as good a time as ever for the former SA Under-20 front-ranker to come of age and make his mark at provincial level.
He will run out in the No 2 jersey against the men from Kimberley, and while he has shown glimpses of his potential at Currie Cup and United Rugby Championship level, it would do him the world of good to produce a dominant display today.
There is no doubt that at 1.93m and 120kg, he is a dynamic ball-carrier and can put in impactful tackles, but the technical aspects of throwing-in and negotiating the scrums will be his main challenges at hooker.
“I am very happy that he has to learn. He is very gifted, and he’s had … I wouldn’t say easy, but he’s had a nice career in rugby. Things have been going well, and he’s had a bit of a setback, but he is working hard – really hard – to get where he is,” Bulls director of rugby Jake White said yesterday.
“You know I rate him very highly, and it’s a great opportunity. A bit of a test for him because he’s got a young lock in Ludwig jumping in the lineout, and some experienced guys like Cyle (Brink), Arno (Botha) and Walt Steenkamp to lean on with that – with Lizo (Gqoboka), who is a Springbok, next to him.
“I’m sure when he looks back at his career, this will be one place where it’s a defining time for him as well. I’m looking forward to him getting a good start, and hopefully he gets some miles under his belt.
“Jan-Hendrik has been out for a while, but he’s had enough minutes – when I say enough, he’s had enough exposure to those big games and understands what we want.
“So, he gets his chance to start now, and hopefully the two of them will combine well. To have him as the hooker and the experience of Lizo … not only for this game, but for games going forward, is going to be massive for us as well.”
White is coaching the Currie Cup team as Gert Smal is off this week due to an illness and opted to pick URC regular starters such as Canan Moodie, Madosh Tambwe, Harold Vorster, Chris Smith and Steenkamp, while he hopes that youngsters such as lock Reinhardt Ludwig can step up against a Griquas team looking to avenge their 53-27 first round loss to the Bulls in Kimberley.
Meanwhile, White confirmed yesterday that Sbu Nkosi will join the Bulls from the Sharks at the end of the season as a replacement for Tambwe, who will be moving to French club Bordeaux.
Teams For Loftus Versfeld
Bulls: 15 Canan Moodie 14 Stravino Jacobs 13 Cornal Hendricks 12 Harold Vorster 11 Madosh Tambwe 10 Chris Smith 9 Embrose Papier 8 WJ Steenkamp 7 Cyle Brink 6 Arno Botha (captain) 5 Reinhardt Ludwig 4 Walt Steenkamp 3 Robert Hunt 2 Jan-hendrik Wessels 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Bench: 16 Schalk Erasmus 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Dylan Smith 19 Ruan Nortje 20 Muller Uys 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Juan Mostert 23 Stedman Gans.
Griquas: 15 Rynhardt Jonker 14 Munier Hartzenberg 13 Sango Xamlashe 12 Zander du Plessis 11 Luther Obi 10 George Whitehead 9 Johan Mulder 8 Siba Qoma 7 Hanru Sirgel 6 Niel Otto 5 Derik Pretorius 4 Johan Retief 3 Janu Botha 2 Gustav du Randt 1 Kudzwai Dube.
Bench: 16 Janco Uys 17 Eddie Davids 18 Justin Forwood 19 Cameron Lindsay 20 Luyolo Dapula 21 Stefan Ungerer 22 Chris Hollis 23 Ashlon Davids.