Who should lead the Bok charge at No 8?
CAPE TOWN – With Super Rugby almost at the halfway mark and suspended due to the coronavirus, it’s an ideal time to look at the Springboks’ options in each position for new head coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus ahead of the planned Tests against Scotland and Georgia.
We will assess the leading players this season at the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, and make our final selection. Let’s look at No 8:
Bulls: Jeandre Rudolph
A Varsity Cup star with Pukke, Rudolph has finally cracked the big time with the Bulls, and has been the same kind of hard-running character at Super Rugby level. He has made 21 runs and four tackle-busts, but it is in defence where he has stood out, having dished out 41 tackles in four matches.
But with the Loftus outfit battling at the start of Super Rugby the struggles didn’t allow Rudolph to assert himself with ball-in-hand.
Lions: Len Massyn
The SA Under-20 loose forward has been waiting for his chance at franchise level, and has impressed as a lanky No 8.
Massyn gets across the field with and without the ball. He has made 29 carries and four tackle-busts, and has won 18 lineouts.
But with the Lions battling to get going in 2020, it has been a baptism of fire for Massyn in his first real season in the big leagues.
Sharks: Sikhumbuzo Notshe
A fresh start in Durban has just been what Notshe needed to revitalise his career. After a forgettable 2019 where he missed out on the Bok World Cup squad, he left the comfort of Newlands and the Stormers for Durban, and wanted to make a serious impression.
And hasn’t he just. Notshe has played the No 8 link-man role to perfection for the Sharks, combining his renowned speed with a couple of silky touches.
He has made an incredible 64 runs in seven matches, which places him as the leading South African - with Harry Wilson of the Reds leading with 91!
But the stand-out feature of Notshe in 2020 has been his increased physicality. He has got stuck into the opposition with 17 tackle-busts (third-most in his position) and five line-breaks, as well as 58 tackles and six turnovers.
Stormers: Juarno Augustus
The 2017 World U20 Player of the Year has had a tough time with injuries, and it delayed his start to 2020 as well. But once he got going, he was immense for the Stormers. Augustus has made nine tackle-busts from 20 ball-carries in five matches, but his impact is about so much more than just racking up the numbers.
He got the better of Notshe at Kings Park despite the Stormers going down to the Sharks, and was duly chosen as the Man of the Match. His work-rate might not match lighter players in his position, but when Augustus runs into you or tackles you, you will feel it
VERDICT: Augustus can strengthen his case if Super Rugby resumes in, but up to now, Notshe has been terrific, and playing even better rugby than when he became a Bok in 2018.
Statistics: super.rugby and foxsports.com.au@ashfakmohamed