Cape Town – Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is very likely, in his own mind, to have largely closed the books on his broad base of personnel for the assault on the 2019 season – including the big culmination, the World Cup in Japan.
With only four Tests scheduled before RWC 2019 gets underway in late September, time is already running desperately short for him to infuse any hitherto uncapped bolters into his mix.
That said, no national coach is ever going to blithely ignore the major southern-hemisphere franchise tournament –Super Rugby – that traditionally precedes the start of international combat in a calendar year.
It may have lost some of its gravitas over the years yet almost unfailingly, across its widening spectrum, it nevertheless throws up almost annually some new sensations with the potential to burst into the Test picture for any of the competing countries.
With only a curtailed Rugby Championship in 2019, the chances of total novices bursting to the fore are naturally less favourable than in a non-World Cup year.
Erasmus, remember, already has a fairly swollen list of fringe customers – either minimally capped, or who have featured in his travelling squads without yet sampling the highest stage – to consider.
On South African shores, for example, eyebrows were raised in Durban and beyond when men like the Du Preez loose-forward twins, Jean-Luc and Daniel, and hooker Akker van der Merwe from the 2018 Currie Cup-winning Sharks didn’t make the end-of-year tour cut.
The Bok mastermind may also be inclined over the next few months to revisit a few already internationally-proven players from the swelling ranks of overseas-based Boks: Jan Serfontein, Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach and others could yet be candidates for recall.
So any youngster wishing to suddenly announce himself from left field in 2019 is going to have to do so with some gusto, and enormous regularity during Super Rugby.
It’s a hazardous exercise, but here is my nationwide suggestion of four uncapped greenhorns, powered by appealing X-factor (whatever that really is!), who might just be very long shots for a meteoric elevation to the Springbok squad picture:
Aphelele Fassi (Sharks)
Yes, he is pencil slim. But still aged only 20 (21 in time for the start of what will be his maiden Super Rugby exposure), this extraordinary athlete will fill out, especially with some dedicated gym time that has doubtless already been a key feature of his off-season.
Fassi burst onto the Currie Cup scene for the Sharks this year, making an immediate impact with his blistering pace and keen eye for space to exploit it in – remember when he hunted down the now World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year, Aphiwe Dyantyi, from well behind initially in the semi against the Lions?
Clearly he makes “speed merchant” seem an under-statement, and if he lights up Super Rugby 2019 (probably as a supersub factor, initially) with similar stealth to what he did in the domestic competition, his utility value as either a wing or fullback could just see him fast-tracked sensationally to Bok plans.
It’s an ambitious scenario, for sure; it is probably well too early to bet your house on the former Dale College pupil marching all the way to the national picture at short notice.
But the Boks do lack a little bit of tall timber among their outside backs for high-ball management purposes and, at almost 1.90m, Fassi has an advantage in that respect over most of the current back-three staff for SA.
Cobus Wiese (Stormers)
Erasmus has already shown at least some confidence in the loose forward’s long-term potential by making Wiese part of some Bok training-camp exercises.
The 21-year-old, already boasting two seasons of on-and-off Super Rugby experience, has had a frustrating 2018 due to injury layoffs, struggling to get any continuity – and that in a Newlands set-up not exactly lacking in loosie resources.
But if that particular jinx can be firmly banished in 2019, he has the ability to become an integral part of the furniture for the Stormers even as competition stays tight (and quite strongly experience-laden) for starting places.
There is something of the Schalk Burger-type abrasive quality to his play, even if the Upington-born flank-cum-lock (though he may need to add a few kilos to his 105kg frame to be a real presence in the second row) obviously has a long road to travel to become as iconic in Western Cape rugby circles as Burger was.
He clatters into collisions with mongrel-like zeal, though, and boasts a strong work-rate when at optimum fitness.
Hacjivah Dayimani (Lions)
I brought up his name, admittedly, for similar future-vision purposes at the end of the 2017 international season.
And truth be told, the Lions’ tearaway then didn’t announce himself in Super Rugby 2018 to quite the degree some had expected or hoped.
Yet Dayimani, 21, remains brimful of potential as a genuine, game-breaking sort of loosie raider, considering his pace, linking instincts and sublime stepping when he is properly “switched on”.
He also started to regain his best zest at times during the latest Currie Cup, and with the Lions’ squad thinning a bit through overseas defections, maybe THIS will instead be his big “arrival” season at Super Rugby level.
If he gets it right, I see him as a potential threat to Bok squad incumbent Sikhumbuzo Notshe – sadly rather flat-lining, despite his considerable attributes? – as a versatile, pace-orientated loose forward offering impact possibilities against tiring defences from either the side of the scrum or eighth-man.
Hendre Stassen (Bulls)
There wasn’t too much for the now long-suffering Loftus faithful to get optimistic about in terms of “Bulls revival” during 2018.
But even as they await – already irritatingly overdue – the appointment of a new head coach to replace John Mitchell, the Pretoria-based franchise are slowly amassing the necessary personnel for a better challenge, at very least, in Super Rugby 2019 after ending 12th overall this year.
That includes a decent shaft of light from the Currie Cup: no-nonsense, energetic and sturdily-built (115kg, two metres) lock Stassen.
He is not quite 21 yet, so just consider how much more he might bulk up into a genuine powerhouse.
He looks like a robust front lock in the Bakkies Botha or Flip van der Merwe mould, and his development should only benefit from a current, short-term stint ahead of the local season with Stade Francais, where astute former Bok and Bulls mastermind Heyneke Meyer will be a positive influence in helping him increase his world-wisdom.
Stassen made a sprinkling of Super Rugby appearances this year, but should feature much more prominently this time around – and that despite the presence in Pretoria of much more seasoned, international second-rowers RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins and Lood de Jager, as generous rotation should pay dividends during the long slog.
We could just have a “Boksburg Bomber” of a new kind in the making for punch in the Bulls’ pack …