Super Rugby Unlocked comes to an anti-climatic end this weekend, with COVID-19 induced match cancellations nullifying what could have been an exciting final weekend to decide the winner.
The Vodacom Bulls were in a prime position to win the competition outright, but a slip up against the Pumas and a bonus-point win by either the Sharks or the Stormers would have delivered a nail-biting weekend of rugby. As it stands now with the Sharks vs Stormers game also postponed, the Bulls will be awarded the Super Rugby Unlocked title. Their rescheduled game against the Pumas will now take place on Saturday and will be nothing more than a celebratory hit-out. The sparkling wine will not be as sweet as they would have hoped it would be.
Super Rugby Unlocked rookies
A number of young players have stood out in the South African version of Super Rugby this year. Ryan Jordan selects three who have impressed.
The Sharks scrumhalf has had some previous experience at Super Rugby level, but this was his first full competition. He performs the basic halfback duties very well, but it is his exciting running game that has attracted attention. He may only be 21 years old, but he is very quickly making a name for himself in South African rugby as one to keep an eye on. Another string to his bow that has not been needed yet by the Sharks is his ability to kick off the tee. A handy backup should the likes of Curwin Bosch not be able to perform the task.
JJ van der Mescht
The 21-year-old Sharks lock already stands in at 6ft 7 and 120kgs. Size is one thing, but it is Van der Mescht’s work rate and willingness to use his size around the park to gain momentum and clearing out rucks that impresses. He will continue to mature as he ages and will not be a surprise pick for the South Africa “A” or Invitation side to take on the British and Irish Lions in 2021.
This selection will be a little left field for some but is well deserved. It is not easy to stand out in a struggling team, but this is what the 22-year-old Burger had done at the Griquas. As recently as three years ago, South African scrumhalf stocks were very limited. Super Rugby Unlocked has seen a number of very talented young scrumhalves on display. The previously mentioned Sanele Nohama and the Rugby World Cup winning scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies are stand out examples. Burger deserves to be in this conversation. He is the real deal and would flourish at a bigger union. He has started to develop nicely at Griquas and has made his presence felt. Aside from being very solid in all aspects of halfback play, there are strong leadership qualities there. It is no coincidence that he was given the captain’s armband in the Griquas home game against the Stormers.
Super Rugby Unlocked rookies – a lot more to come
The three players named are just a few that stood out. There are a lot more youngsters moving through the ranks and have already started making an impact. With the right mentorship at franchise level and what is now a strong Springbok coaching team under Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus and Head Coach Jacques Nienaber, the Springbok player pipeline appears to be well set. The number of new sponsors being attracted to the game recently will help to underpin that.
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