Who should rule at the back for Boks?
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 July Tests against Scotland and Georgia.
We will take a look at the leading player in each position this season at the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, and make our final selection. Let’s look at fullback
Bulls: Warrick Gelant
The man they call “Boogie” has certainly been jiving on rugby’s dance floor in 2020. Having been part of the World Cup-winning Boks, Gelant knows that a strong Super Rugby showing could see him push Willie le Roux for the No 15 jersey.
The 24-year-old from Knysna has been electric when carrying the ball, as usual, but appears to have added a tactical bow to his approach as well.
Gelant has produced a couple of effective chips and kicks downfield to relieve some pressure, in the knowledge that his boot work needs to be better to start for the Boks, while he is also joint-third in most offloads (10) among fullbacks this season.
In defence, though, Gelant has missed some crucial tackles that led to tries for the opposition.
Lions: Andries Coetzee
The 30-year-old is often seen as a “safe” option, as he is solid under the high ball and boasts a lengthy left boot. But Coetzee, who played in 13 Tests for the Boks in 2017, hasn’t quite regained the form that caught the eye of Allister Coetzee a few years ago.
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he played in Japan during the off-season, which meant that he joined the Johannesburg outfit just before the start of Super Rugby, but Coetzee hasn’t put himself about with ball in hand as he usually does for the Lions, and he is not much involved in the defensive side of things - while five defeats out of six wouldn’t have helped him either.
Sharks: Aphelele Fassi
The “Weekend Special” has been turning up the heat every time he has taken to the field. It’s not only his searing pace that has seen him pierce the opposition’s defences, where he was one of the stand-outs on the Sharks’ tour of Australia and New Zealand.
The 22-year-old Fassi, who hails from King William’s Town, has showcased a classy kicking game to complement his running skills.
Some of his grubber kicks have been outstanding and set up tries, while he is also able to clear his lines from the back - with the result that he is among the top 10 of most of the attacking-play lists this year.
His lean frame is not helping him in the physicality stakes, though, and fighting to stay in the field of play and making more effective tackles are some of the areas he has to work on.
Stormers: Dillyn Leyds
The pony-tailed footballer is always a threat when he is carrying the ball in two hands. He is able to fling long and short passes, and has a smart chip kick too. Leyds doesn’t quite have the out-and-out pace of Fassi and Gelant, but more than makes up for it with his skills and vision. He has often roamed in the flyhalf channel as well to add variety to the Stormers’ attack and help out Damian Willemse. The 27-year-old is also a willing tackler and good in the air, but will hope to add a bit more distance to his touch-finders if and when Super Rugby resumes to force his way into the Bok mix - having been unlucky to miss out on the World Cup.
Verdict: While Leyds is the more rounded player, on current form, Fassi gets the nod. Statistics: super.rugby and foxsports.com.au@ashfakmohamed