Cape Town - A champagne showing from
spring-heeled loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe tempered the disappointment of SA
‘A’ playing second fiddle to a wily England Saxons team in a high-quality
encounter in Bloemfontein.
The Friday night match - an often
breathless, attack-spirited affair - was fittingly enough won 32-24 by the
tourists, fielding several experienced internationals or wise Premiership
heads, and clearly benefiting from better “prep” time as well.
SA ‘A’ coach Johan Ackermann only really
began to work properly with a known starting XV on Wednesday so rhythm and
structure was always likely to be an impediment at times … and so it proved as
the English outfit often skilfully manufactured tries (they took the honours
4-3 on that front) from turnovers secured a long way out.
Otherwise, the home side had plenty of the
play, including a majority of possession, and just as much verve and offensive
intent when they weren’t succumbing to breakdown errors, lineout inaccuracy or
losing some communication and organisational shape on defence.
We could be in for another easy-on-the-eye
meeting in George on Friday, with the SA ‘A’ combo quite likely to boast better
cohesion and less naïve pacing of play in pursuit of a series-sharing outcome.
That said, of course, the Saxons, whose
lungs were seriously tested at altitude in a forceful South African second-half
fightback from a 22-3 interval deficit, will again be a tough nut to crack in
coastal conditions that should be more to their liking.
They will also have made a mental note or
two now about the elusive skills of Notshe, who made frequent ball-in-hand
gains for SA ‘A’ either by slipping or leg-driving through holes at close
quarters or with stealthy rampages in looser play.
He was undoubtedly the biggest positive
about the losing cause on the night, his engine purring superbly for the full
80 minutes; the Wynberg Boys’ High product didn’t even sound too out-of-breath
as he spoke eloquently in the immediate on-field television interview
Exactly where to field Notshe in any loose
trio, it must be said, is an ongoing dilemma, and something that even his home
franchise the Stormers haven’t completely solved for him.
He was played as open-side flanker for SA‘A’, although he is no natural stealer with his rangy 1.90m
frame and the Saxons were collectively more adept at pinching the ball at
Nor is he a true blindside “bruiser” in
Willem Alberts mould, as his reasonably modest 100kg weight is again not the
most ideal for regular No 7 stationing in tighter, perhaps more
A personal inclination remains to gradually
draw the 23-year-old back closer to eighth-man duties, especially as the
Stormers, next season, will lose another quality individual capable of serving
in that capacity when veteran libero Schalk Burger joins Duane Vermeulen (who
left a season earlier) in migrating abroad.
Yet Notshe reminds more and more of a
young, carefree Bob Skinstad in 1998, who was initially employed by Springbok
coach of the time Nick Mallett as a stallion-like, game-cracking impact player
off the Test bench with his athletic surges and magical linking and stepping.
Developed carefully, Notshe has the
potential to develop into a similar specimen for the Boks.
At the very least, he demonstrated on Friday
why it didn’t seem quite such a curveball for him to be named in Allister
Coetzee’s fuller, 31-strong senior Bok squad recently …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing