PORT ELIZABETH – It almost comes as a surprise when you realise that Trevor Nyakane has 28 Springbok caps.
Really, 28 already?
Yes, the Bulls prop has quietly gone about notching up those scattered Test appearances, and soon, very soon, he might get to add to his numbers.
Nyakane has suddenly become a very important man for the Boks.
It’s the fact that the 28-year-old, who has been named on the bench for the Test against Argentina in Port Elizabeth, can pack down at either side of the scrum – the fact that he’s a swinger – that will make his appearances in the green and gold more valuable.
Nyakane became a scrum asset when it was earlier this week confirmed that tighthead Frans Malherbe will most likely miss the entire Rugby Championship with a neck injury.
Even before the Stormers front-rower’s injury, when the squad for the Boks’ first Rugby Championship match against Argentina today was announced, Bok coach Allister Coetzee said Nyakane’s ability to scrum at either side was a positive. And now the Boks are one tighthead down, even more so.
It can never be said Nyakane only deserves an injury-enforced opportunity, because that is not the case.
Nyakane is a good scrummager, and he also has impressive mobility around the park and, of course, he knows how to handle a rugby ball. He knows how to run with it.
And now that he’s shaken off some weight, he can take all that and offer it to the Boks.
Like I said, it seems like that might happen soon.
At the team announcement at the team hotel on Thursday, Coetzee explained that Nyakane, who was left out of the three-Test series against France in June, has since then gotten into the right physical condition for international rugby.
During the Boks’ series whitewash over France, Coetzee went with Malherbe at tighthead – with Coenie Oosthuizen as his back-up – while powerful Lions scrummager Ruan Dreyer got the nod in the last Test in June.
“Trevor Nyakane was always part of the plan, even in the June series, but we have fitness and conditioning criteria that we need to compete at international level, and that’s why Trevor wasn’t included initially,” Coetzee said.
“He’s done very well, he’s lost a hell of a lot of weight, and he’s really fighting fit, so he has been rewarded and is back in the squad.”
Coetzee also revealed that it’s on tour that Nyakane will be especially important.
“It’s also important to note when you travel to Argentina or Australia you can only have a group of 28 players, whereas in June we had the luxury of six props – three looseheads and three tightheads – but now you can only have five.”
“It’s important Trevor plays the loosehead role and the tighthead role. So for the tour you have two looseheads, two tightheads and what you call a swinger –a prop who can play both sides – therefore Trevor’s selection is the right one”
“You need a prop who can play at loosehead and tighthead, and therefore Trevor’s selection is the right one.”
There has always been some doubt regarding Nyakane’s best position, but this season with the Bulls, the prop with the infectious smile has been given good time to try and settle at No 3.
It should also be said that Nyakane’s efforts at tighthead this Super Rugby season haven’t always been outstanding - in fact, he’s produced a bit of a mixed bag - but the fact that he’s had a bit of time to settle into the position is great. And that preparation period came at a very good time.
And it wasn’t just Coetzee who was excited by the prospect that is Nyakane at tighthead – Bok scrum guru Matt Proudfoot praised Nyakane’s work as well.
“Allister Coetzee set some very high goals for the players to accomplish and Trevor has accomplished them,” he said earlier this week.
“That says a lot about his motivation. When a player is motivated it gives him confidence and an edge.
“I feel Trevor has that edge. I am really happy for him that he is back. Trevor adds a lot to our team and he is an unbelievable team guy.”
So, up until now, Nyakane hasn’t had too many chances to establish himself as a serious contender for the Bok tighthead position, but it seems like those chances are finally coming his way.
All he has to do now is scrum...he has to keep smiling and keep scrumming.