CAPE TOWN – What can be more galvanising for a South African provincial rugby player than knowing that the Springbok coach is watching you?
If you know that Rassie Erasmus’ specs will be focused in your direction – or on the competition you’re playing in – you don’t need much more of a reason than that to jolt your boots into action.
Just ask Western Province centre Ruhan Nel.
Nel was called up to the Bok squad for the last two Rugby Championship Tests against the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth and the All Blacks in Pretoria.
And it’s the impression the former Blitzbok star made when Province provided the Boks with opposed practice during a training camp in Stellenbosch leading up to the Rugby Championship that put him right on to Erasmus’ radar.
And now, as WP prepare for the Currie Cup final against the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday, the defence-savvy, attack-canny midfielder will have a tank full of motivation as he believes the “Currie Cup is not dead” and still provides a special platform.
“The Currie Cup is definitely special. People are saying the Currie Cup is dead, but looking back on my journey this year, this is where coach Rassie actually saw me,” Nel said about the competition, which has copped heavy criticism and experienced poor crowd attendances in recent years.
“It just goes to show that the Currie Cup is not down. People are watching, the right eyes are watching. I am a testament to that. You can be picked (for the Boks) out of the Currie Cup.”
Nel won’t be the only player in the WP team who should feel that there’s more to gain in the Currie Cup – and in the final in particular than the trophy itself, although lifting the traditional Holy Grail of SA rugby still is more than an accomplishment in its own right.
Erasmus will name his final squad for the end-of-year tour after the final, and in that WP team alone, there more than a couple of guys who will be seeking the ultimate reward for their form... or potential “bolters” for the last international assessment of the season.
Dillyn Leyds’ attacking play from fullback has been stunning, while Sergeal Petersen has been absolutely vicious on the wing.
The way tighthead Wilco Louw has gone about making a meal of his opposite shoving experts at times this season has been cruel to watch.
And seeing that tightheads and certain wines are synonymous when it comes to maturing, the 24-year-old’s current productions have just again shown what an asset he will be to Erasmus’ circle.
When you think of bolters (again), another name that should have popped up at least somewhere this season is lock JD Schickerling.
And then there’s No 8 Juarno Augustus.
The young back-rower perhaps hasn’t had enough time to properly put up his hand due to injuries, but from what we have seen, his future certainly involves higher honours, whether those honours are around the corner or a season away.
So, while SA rugby’s most coveted piece of silverware will be more than enough reason to play for on Saturday, the end-of-year tour – or Rassie’s radar – will add another very valid one.@WynonaLouw