DURBAN - With the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina taking place at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday (5.05pm kickoff), speculation on the Springbok team has been rife. How will coach Rassie Erasmus balance his loose trio? What about the centres? There are so many quality locks. And so the questions go on.
But one spot that needs to be considered is out on the wing. No doubt Lions speedster Aphiwe Dyantyi will occupy the No 11 jersey after his heroics against England. Erasmus was quite happy to throw the uncapped newbie into the deep end to begin with, and there's no reason not to. However, the other greenhorn who impressed, Sharks man Sbu Nkosi, is out through injury, leaving the coach to ponder who will replace him for the Rugby Championship.
What makes the decision even more interesting to debate is the fact that there are only two out-and-out wing options left in the squad. Essentially, it becomes a straight shootout between two more Durban-based flyers in veteran Lwazi Mvovo and try-scoring machine Makazole Mapimpi. The pair have a lot to offer the Boks, but in very different ways with their varying attributes.
Mvovo has been around the higher echelons of South African rugby for some time now, yet he still seems to be a bit of a sprightly youngster. Although at 32 he is a veteran of the game, especially for a wing, and has officially taken over Odwa Ndungane’s mantle of dependability and reliability at the Sharks.
Mvovo made his debut for the Sharks in 2008 against Boland before going on two years later to make his Bok debut in 2010 against Scotland at Murrayfield. Mvovo always caught the eye with his blistering pace and ability to find the tryline.
As time has gone on, Mvovo has become an important cog at the Sharks with his ability to also slot in seamlessly at fullback. He has traded some of his pace - only a small bit, though - for a much-improved kicking game, as well as dependability under the high ball.
Mvovo will offer the Boks a lot of options at the back, especially with Willie le Roux set to start at fullback. He is not only there to finish off tries, but also to nullify the Pumas' kicking game better than a lot of other less experienced wings.
In the past he has been criticised for his defence, but that too has matured to a point where it can’t really be considered a crux. Mvovo is Mr Dependable, but also perhaps more of one for the present rather than the future.
Mapimpi burst onto the scene in the Free State after causing a bit of a stir with the Southern Kings in 2016. The 28-year-old is no spring chicken but is a relative newbie to the scene, rocketing himself from his amateur days at Border in 2014 to the Boks in less than four years.
Mapimpi’s biggest strength is his eye for the line; he is the ultimate finisher with pace to burn. However, an aspect that not many know about is his voice on defence. Mapimpi is praised by teammates and coaches alike for his ability to organise defences in the wider channel, constantly vocalising what he is doing, and what others should be. However, his own one-on-one defence has been called into question at times.
This has seen him play fewer games for the Sharks’ Super Rugby side than he would have liked. However, the man is full of raw talent and that is being recognised by Erasmus. Mapimpi offers the Boks pure finishing power, but he will no doubt need support from the likes of Le Roux should he start on Saturday. He will also have to be nurtured and not exposed if he is to be a factor for the future.
While Mvovo and Mapimpi are recognised wings, Erasmus could mix things up and use one of his more versatile players to cover No 14. Jesse Kriel could well slot in on the wing, as could fellow centre Lionel Mapoe, and with there being a host of No 13s, one has to wonder if this is not an option at some point going forward.