JOHANNESBURG – In a union packed with Springbok players and a plethora of talented youngsters coming through the ranks it’s not always easy to stand out in the crowd. Wandisile Simelane though - through sheer quality of performance - has made sure he is being noticed.
The 20-year-old Lions back, who’s comfortable at wing and centre, has the caught the eye with some strong performances off the bench so far in the Currie Cup competition and it seems only a matter of time before he gets a chance to play the full 80 minutes.
“Everything in time,” said his Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen this week. “He’s a very exciting player; let’s see how it goes this weekend.”
Simelane, a product of Jeppe High School for Boys, has the pedigree. He played for the SA Schools team for two seasons and also represented the SA U-20 side in 2017 and again earlier this year. Blessed with blistering pace, vision and a wicked side-step, he has been spoken about as a future star of South African rugby.
Van Rooyen though said Simelane was currently being groomed so when his opportunity arrived he’d be 100 percent ready.
“We’ve had two opportunities now to give him time on the field (from off the bench),” said Van Rooyen.
“The one time we were ahead (against Griquas) and last weekend against the Bulls we were behind, so it was a different test for him. That is all good, which is great for his development. He’s experienced both sides now. There’s no doubt he’s good enough.”
Breaking into, and then staying in, the Lions team won’t be easy for Simelane as he has the likes of fellow 20-year-old, wing Madosh Tambwe, Courtnall Skosan, Sylvian Mahuza and Ruan Combrinck, ahead of him in the queue.
Also, among the centres Lionel Mapoe and Harold Vorster look set to be the first choices in Super Rugby next year, but with Rohan Janse van Rensburg already gone and playing in England and Howard Mnisi out of contract at the Lions following the Currie Cup, Simelane may just get a look-in in the midfield next year.
For now though the focus will be on producing more quality performances in the Currie Cup, starting today (Sat) when the Lions host the Free State in a round four encounter at Ellis Park.
The Lions are chasing a third straight win, while a fourth loss in a row for the men from Bloemfontein will end any hopes they had of making the semi-finals.
Kickoff is 4.20pm.
Wandisile Simelane was one of the major stars of the Junior World Championship in France in June, ending the tournament as the joint top try-scorer, with six tries.
He scored a hat-trick in the second pool game against Ireland and also played a big role in helping his team beat New Zealand 40-30 in the third/fourth playoff game.@jacq_west