Centre of attention: The Springboks' options at No 13

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published Apr 23, 2020

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WITH Super Rugby almost at the halfway mark and suspended due to the coronavirus, it’s an ideal time to look at the Springboks’ options in each position for new head coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus ahead of the Tests against Scotland.

We will take a look at the leading player in each position this season at the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, and make our final selection. Let’s look at outside centre…

Bulls: Johnny Kotze

The former Stormers midfielder has been a willing workhorse for the three-time champions. He runs hard lines and is able to attract defenders, which is evidenced by his impressive statistics of six line-breaks, 14 tackle-busts and 34 carries in six appearances, which have netted him 362 running metres.

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What is concerning, though, is that for all his endeavour, he hasn’t been able to score any tries, while he has missed 11 tackles – the joint-fifth-most by a centre.

While a strong ball-carrier, perhaps he needs to work on his subtle skills, like offloading in the tackle, where the official Super Rugby website states that he has yet to make one, as he has lethal finishers in Rosko Specman and Cornal Hendricks out wide.

Johnny Kotze tries to evade Damian Willimse of the Stormers. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Lions: Manuel Rass

The ex-Cape schoolboy star hasn’t quite found his feet in his first year of Super Rugby. Blessed with superb hands and an excellent eye for a gap, Rass may be missing his old Paarl Boys’ High mate Gianni Lombard, with whom he has formed a devastating flyhalf-centre combination over the years, due to Lombard’s injury-enforced absence.

To be fair, it is difficult for the 22-year-old to shine in a battling Lions side, where he has been paired largely with Dan Kriel – a new recruit from the Stormers – in his maiden season at this level.

Sharks: Lukhanyo Am

The new franchise captain has just oozed class on the back of a wonderful World Cup campaign. Am – who has spearheaded the Sharks’ renaissance as an attacking force – has contributed positively in almost every aspect of their surge to the top of the log.

He has made some classy passes, taken on the defence with ball-in-hand and put in the odd kick or two.

Am is also a solid defender, and has become an accomplished skipper who could very well be the back-up to Siya Kolisi at the Springboks in 2020.

One of his stand-out statistics is his nine tackle-busts this year, and his all-encompassing approach has rubbed off on centre partner Andre Esterhuizen, who has supplemented his bulldozer-style with some neat offloads.

The Stormers' Ruhan Nel scored the winning try against the Lions at Ellis Park. Picture: Christiaan Kotze BackpagePix

Stormers: Ruhan Nel

The Blitzboks stalwart has built on his previous seasons in the 15-man game in impressive fashion in 2020, to the extent that he is pushing Jesse Kriel to be the back-up No 13 behind Lukhanyo Am for the Springboks.

Apart from scoring two tries, Nel has recorded 250 running metres due to 29 carries, which include eight tackle-busts and four line-breaks.

He has been a visible presence on attack and defence for the Stormers, with his high work-rate from sevens rugby playing a major part in his team’s four-match unbeaten start to the competition.

Nel isn’t afraid to get stuck in at the rucks either, having earned six turnovers.

VERDICT: While Ruhan Nel is making a serious bid for a Springbok berth, Lukhanyo Am is still South Africa’s best outside centre.

Statistics: super.rugby and foxsports.com.au

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