CAPE TOWN - When Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus said that S’busiso Nkosi was close to making his international debut last year already, he wasn’t joking. And when he said that he has been one of the standout wings in South Africa, he wasn’t exaggerating.
In fact, if there had been an official Super Rugby list of what I like to call “field-lighters” to watch out for in the 2018 season, there can be no doubt that the Sharks back would have been on that list. And I don’t think he’d be too far down that scroll either. When Nkosi and Lions flyer Aphiwe Dyantyi were included in Erasmus' Bok squad for the three-Test series against England, and later in the run-on side for the opening Test at Ellis Park, those selections out wide screamed excitement.
And when Nkosi crossed the try line in Johannesburg - twice - it was a reassuring action that implied that all that excitement wasn’t in vain. Fittingly, it was also the word Erasmus used when asked what he expected the 22-year-old to bring ahead of the Gauteng cruncher.
“Excitement,” Erasmus said. “S’bu was close to making the team last year, one of the standout wingers and this year again, he’s been really physical doing work in attack and defence and has improved in the areas which we thought he was vulnerable in. I watched him when I was still in Ireland and he was one of the form wingers in the country.”
Yeah, a couple of weeks ago, there was an area Erasmus raised as one that Nkosi could still improve in. And if you think of an area that has caused SA outside backs all kinds of headaches - on numerous occasions - then it wouldn’t be too hard to guess that that area is under the high ball.
The informal noun and very descriptive term "horror show" (i.e. a very poor performance) - one that is nowadays better known for its presence in rugby’s vast dictionary than it is for its relevance in film or play - really has been applicable in recent years when it comes to the aerial contest in Bok performances.
We’ve seen too many kicks sent to the opposition seemingly without any regard for retrieving it with a decent chase. Too many instances of a player going up ... isolated ... and failing to secure the ball with no support players around to try and salvage the damage of lost possession. Too many instances of just a plain fail when it comes to actually getting a grip on the Gilbert. Just too many. So yes, that area really has been a horror show in the past. But as Erasmus said - it’s an area that Nkosi has improved in. And he will continue to improve there. It’s a skill and it can be enhanced.
Then we get to the other definition of horror show - a situation that is very unpleasant or difficult to deal with. And that’s where I think Nkosi is heading. I reckon he will become that situation. An unpleasant situation for any opposition he plays against. A regular one. In his first two Tests he already showed how difficult he can be to handle. And it’s not just his eye for the tryline that makes him such a threat, it’s everything he does before he runs in behind the posts or dives over next to the corner flag post that makes him so special.
It’s his massive work rate. It’s his unquestionable power and his knack for forcing the opposition to make an attempt or three on defence before he has to swing an offload to his mate in space. It’s his anticipation for play that allows him to pop up at just the right time. It’s his support play. His powerful carrying. And it’s that defence (with a good few dominant tackles and massive completion rate added in there) that makes him such an exciting product.
Sure, the Boks were skinned out wide a couple of times by England’s runners in the first two events. But again, it’s a system - perhaps just quicker drifting from midfield - and it can be sorted out. So, as S’bu Nkosi goes for his third appearance in the green and gold, let’s hope to see more unpleasant touches from him - for Eddie Jones' boys, of course.