Becoming first choice no 9 at the Bulls will increase Embrose Papier chances of Springbok return
CAPE TOWN - After making his Test debut in 2018 already, Embrose Papier may have thought that he would be a regular Springbok by now.
But the reality is that, having turned 24 last Sunday, he is not even the first-choice No 9 at the Bulls.
There are a number of reasons for that, chiefly being a lack of opportunity. Despite impressing in his first Bok start against Scotland in November 2018, Papier has not been entrusted with the No 9 jersey for either club or country.
Perhaps it’s because South African coaches tend to be conservative in nature, and prefer to have ‘kicking scrumhalves’ instead of ones who look for the break first before anything else.
It would be doing a disservice to Papier to describe him as only that type of player, though. Most of the chances he has received have been as a replacement, where he has opted to take tap penalties or create something out of nothing with his pace around the fringes.
Maybe 2021 will finally be his year. Regular Bulls No 9 Ivan van Zyl will leave Loftus Versfeld at the end of June to join English club Saracens, and while he was in top form last season, it would make little sense for coach Jake White to keep him in the starting line-up for the Rainbow Cup SA ahead of Papier.
The PRO16 tournament is the big prize White is focusing on, and that is where Papier will be the No 1, with youngsters such as Zak Burger, Keagan Johannes and Bernard van der Linde his understudies.
Papier, though, is taking nothing for granted ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld (7pm kick-off).
“Everyone is fighting for the No 9 jersey. No-one can become comfortable in any position, as there is always someone putting up their hand,” the seven-Test cap Bok said this week.
“I feel that Ivan and I have pushed each other well, so I can take confidence out of that. And with Fourie (du Preez) helping us, it is a dream for me to work with him. Just the things that he is teaching us – game management, passing, kicking – is definitely something I can take out and hopefully execute on the field.
“With my overall game and kicking game, I have improved a lot. I am just excited as I am learning something new every day. I am working very hard on that.”
And he does still have that licence to go for that break … “Coach Jake is looking for the best out of each player, and here are guys with a lot of talent. So, it’s in important to stay in the structure, but if you get a chance, to use that talent.”
While that Bok jersey may appear to be far away, Papier, who hails from the Cape West Coast, is not giving up hope of a Test recall, especially with the British and Irish Lions tour looming.
“It’s definitely a goal for me. It’s still my dream to play for the Boks.”