CAPE TOWN - Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says Ruhan Nel reminds him of a "Bok legend of not too long ago", Marius Joubert.
Nel was the surprise inclusion in Rassie Erasmus' Bok squad for the last two Rugby Championship matches against Australia in Port Elizabeth and the All Blacks in Pretoria next week following injuries to Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.
The 27-year-old joined former Western Province and Stormers prop Vincent Koch and Bulls scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl as newcomers to the Bok squad. Fullback Willie le Roux - who was initially set to miss the two home games due to club commitments with Wasps - rejoined the Boks last night.
Anybody who's followed the Currie Cup this season would know that Nel's call-up is a justified one. The Blitzbok star has been in hot form with WP in their unbeaten run, and the fact that the domestic competition was his first taste of Fifteens action this season makes his contributions even more impressive.
Stick, a former Blitzbok himself, explained that it was Nel's form in training that put him on Erasmus' radar. “He comes from the sevens system and he has been a big part of the Blitzbok success,” said Stick. “He has done really well at sevens over the last couple of the years. It was a bold decision for him to leave sevens and commit fully to WP and the 15-man game.
"But we know he has great potential as we trained against him a couple of times (in Stellenbosch before the Rugby Championship). He showed us what he could offer there, and then he carried that through to the Currie Cup."
“I think it is best for our country when the youngsters are given a chance. We want to turn all the stones in the buildup to the World Cup and evaluate our depth, and giving guys opportunities is what Rassie is doing really well at the moment.”
“When I watch him he reminds me a bit of one of the Bok legends of not that long ago, Marius Joubert. He is like Marius in the way that he is sneaky around the field, he has a good eye for space, and neither can you underestimate his work rate around the field."
"Of course we have Sevens to thank for that. His selection is a credit to the Sevens system and shows that Rassie doesn’t overlook the Sevens players when he makes his selections.”
Stick also revealed that building depth would continue to be the goal when they host the Wallabies and New Zealand, so it will be interesting to see how Erasmus rolls the dice come the weekend.
Nel can play at both 12 and 13, and Lionel Mapoe rejoining the squad, along with Jesse Kriel, gives the Boks a few option at outside centre, while Andre Esterhuizen and Handre Pollard can play at 12.
S'bu Nkosi's return to fitness also gives Erasmus an additional option at wing, while Damian Willemse's anticipated starting run at fullback is a little less certain now seeing that Le Roux is back in the mix, while another former Sevens man, Cheslin Kolbe, is also a No 15 option.
Springbok squad for home leg of Rugby Championship
Willie le Roux, Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe, Sbu Nkosi, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Jesse Kriel, Ruhan Nel, Lionel Mapoe, Andre Esterhuizen, Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marco van Staden, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Eben Etzebeth, Wilco Louw, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Schalk Brits, Tendai Mtawarira, Steven Kitshoff.