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Five players to watch in new look Springbok team against Georgia

Aphelele Fassi of the Sharks will be hoping to make his mark for the Springboks. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Aphelele Fassi of the Sharks will be hoping to make his mark for the Springboks. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Jul 2, 2021


JOHANNESBURG - Despite being considered a make-shift 23, the Springbok side that will run out against Georgia on Friday (kick-off 7pm) to play their first Test since November 2019, is a mix of World Cup winners and familiar faces.

Here, we look at five players to watch, and unsurprisingly three of them will be debutants who will wear the Green and Gold for the first time.

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Rosko Specman

Spec-magic has suffered some depressing lows and extraordinary highs this season.

Earlier this year, he was ditched by the Bulls, left to his own devices and meandering through an unknown future in XVs. He was subsequently snaffled up by the Cheetahs, and a few weeks later named in the 46-man Bok squad for the British and Irish Lions tour.

It must have been a rollercoaster of emotions.

ALSO READ: ’We’re happy to be together again,’ says Boks captain Siya Kolisi ahead of Georgia Test

Specman will play his first Test for the Boks on Friday night, and for the 32-year-old it is the ultimate justification that his decision to leave the Blitzboks setup in 2017 was the correct one. The wing brings with him all those skills, talent and pace from the shorter format, and if the game opens up, those characteristics could translate into some exciting lines, jaw-dropping side-stepping, sharp handling, and hopefully, plenty of tries.

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Aphelele Fassi

Preceding the Bok squad announcement, arguments raged on social media as to whether 23-year-old Fassi should be selected. Many postulated that he was too young, too inexperienced, had much to learn, and probably had a season or two more at franchise level to reach his full potential.

After being named as a debutant in Friday's match, the argument then shifted recently to why he is being played on the wing, instead of his preferred position at fullback. Both arguments are moot.

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ALSO READ: The Springboks are a mix of old, new and odd for the first Test since World Cup win

Fassi is a fine footballer, one with a bright future ahead of him, and his inclusion on the wing will be an excellent start to his international career. It will not be the first time, nor the last, that an out-back starts his career out of position, so as to learn the ropes of Test rugby, and watch and learn from the more experienced hands around him. The Sharks player is all about attack, and loves taking on defensive lines from deep. His role will be different against Georgia with the No 11 on his back, but his playing style will remain unchanged.

He deserves his chance, and could prove once again that you are good enough, you are old enough.

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Handre Pollard

There was slight panic in the build-up to the BI Lions series regarding the World Cup-winning flyhalf. Pollard suffered a serious knee injury while playing for Montpellier last year, which sidelined him for eight months, and depleted Jacques Nienaber's options at No 10.

ALSO READ: Smiling Rosko Specman brings ‘energy’ to the Springboks team, says coach Jacques Nienaber

Thankfully, the rugby gods have smiled upon Pollard, the Boks, and their supporters. We all know what the 27-year-old is about - he is a fine rugby player; cool, calm, collected, unerring and arguably one for the best flyhalves in the world.

His appearance against Georgia has as much to do with seeing where his form is currently at, as it is hoping and praying that he comes through unscathed in what will certainly be a physical confrontation.

Jasper Wiese

Unless you are well-versed in English Premiership rugby, then Wiese will be a bit of an unknown quantity to the majority of South African rugby supporters.

The former Cheetahs man went mostly unnoticed during his playing tenure in Bloemfontein, but since joining Leicester Tigers in 2019 his stocks has risen sharply, so much so that he could not be ignored by Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus.

ALSO READ: Caged British Lions prepared for lockdown in South Africa ahead of Springboks battle

At 1.95m and 110km, the loose-forward is a powerhouse with an abrasive style and is unafraid of smashing his way into and through his opponents. In the 2021 season in Europe he gained an awe-inspiring 1094m, beat 86 defenders, made 194 tackles and scored six tries.

He might have been a bolter in selection, but at the end of this tour, if afforded the opportunity, he could be an inspired choice. He will make his debut off the bench for the Boks on Friday, and could smash his way into the greater consciousness of the public with a solid outing.

Kwagga Smith

Perhaps the selection that raised the most eyebrows this past week, was the inclusion of Albertus Stephanus Smith in the starting XV at eightman, especially when a certain Marcell Coetzee could have easily slotted in at the back of the scrum to fill the position now vacated by the injured Duane Vermeulen.

Many think of Smith as an openside-flanker - and rightfully so - but the fact of the matter is that Kwagga played for the Lions as eightman on several occasions, especially when Warren Whiteley was injured during their peak years between 2015 to 2018.

With big ball-carriers in Pieter-Steph du Toit, captain Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth, Kwagga will add a bit of flair, a bit more pace, a sprinkling of Sevens skills, and a lot of energy to the forward pack. One could go so far as to argue that his selection brings a bit more balance to a first eight that is around 900kg of beef-cake.


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