With Elton Jantjies no longer a part of the Emirates Lions’ plans for the foreseeable future, a lot of responsibility will be shifted around the backline to fill the void of the Japanese-bound stalwart.
The absence of the Springbok flyhalf, therefore, presents and opportunity for young centre Wandisile Simelane to take up the mantle of leadership in the backline, express his undoubted X-factor to positive effect and shine once more for the Lions, who begin their United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign against Italian outfit Zebre on Friday (kick-off 6.35pm).
The plan then for the Joburg-based side is to dominate up-front and unleash Simelane and Co.
“Simelane, as we all know, is an exciting player,” said new Lions defence coach Jaque Fourie in a media briefing on Tuesday.
“I think for us, we want to see him with ball in hand, so hopefully if we do everything that we have planned during the week, our backs can get the ball in their hands with pace and score a few tries.
“Like Simelane knows, it is going to be tough but we will have to do the hard work before that in order for our backs to have space. They are going to play against international players week-in, week-out and that is just going to make our players better and give them more experience.”
It has not been all roses and peaches for Simelane, or the Lions for that matter, in recent weeks. The team failed to make an impression in the Currie Cup, finishing with the woodenspoon in that tournament. The would-be Bok Simelane also returned to the Cup with lacklustre displays after his short stay with the national squad during the British and Irish Lions tour.
It probably did not aid his confidence and form that he played a handful of games at full-back upon his return to his provincial union, instead of his preferred position in the No 13 jumper.
The outside-centre had his moments, as would be expected from such an instinctive and impetuous talent, but it was arguably not up to the standard Simelane has expressed in previous seasons. The URC then affords the 23-year-old a window to return to form, bridge the gap from youngster to a more senior player, and exhibit those bewitching runs that has made him one of the players to watch in recent years and the upcoming tournament.
The new competition might just be the perfect chance he needs to achieve that checklist.
“I am very excited and so is the whole group,” said Simelane.
“It is a new competition playing against different opposition, visiting different countries. Our whole focus is basically focussed on this weekend’s game and us achieving a positive result against Zebre. We are not really too focussed on what is going on elsewhere.
“My experience with the Springboks was absolutely amazing,” he continued. “I learnt as much as I possibly could.
“I took in every single moment from the guys around me and it has definitely affected me in a positive manner. The challenge ahead, which I am very excited for, is playing against international players week-in, week-out. There is no better way then testing yourself individually and as a team then playing against the best.”
The Lions are schedule to name their matchday 23 for the opening encounter against Zebre on Wednesday, and if injury free, Simelane will no doubt slot into the starting XV where he can once agains become the centre of attention.