Cape Town - Former Springbok centre De Wet Barry says the likes of Burger Odendaal, Andre Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel are proving their worth at senior level during Super Rugby this season.
Former inside centre Barry, who played 39 Tests for the Springboks between 2000 and 2006, is a big fan of the young centres who have emerged on the South African rugby scene.
While national skipper Jean de Villiers is likely to complete a full recovery ahead of the Rugby World Cup in England in September, and other centres Damian de Allende, Jan Serfontein, JP Pietersen, Juan de Jongh and JJ Engelbrecht proving their worth during Super Rugby, Barry believes there could be a few wildcard Test picks this year.
“It’s been fantastic to see young players getting opportunities and making a good impact for their respective teams,” Barry told MyPlayers.co.za.
“I’m a big fan of Andre Esterhuizen at the Sharks and Burger Odendaal at the Bulls. Andre is big, strong and quick, and has played well for the Sharks in the midfield. Burger has stepped in for the injured Jan Serfontein, giving the Bulls a new dimension at inside centre. He creates opportunities for those on his outside, he runs hard and defends really well.
“(Bulls fullback) Jesse Kriel has also been good, and is an exciting talent to watch. Even (Lions centre) Harold Vorster and (Stormers centre) Huw Jones have done well too. South African rugby is breeding talented centres.
“These guys are young, but if they keep up the current form their in, I think the Springboks could use a wildcard selection during their Test season, and possibly the World Cup.
“If they are excelling at Super Rugby level, and continue to do so during the season, why not give them a shot?”
While Barry is excited about the rise of the young South African centres, he did emphasis the important of experience heading into the World Cup.
He believes the senior players, like De Villiers and Schalk Burger, will play key roles for the Springboks at the global tournament.
“You can never overlook the pressure a player goes through when he’s about to run into a 100-Test veteran. Experience makes a massive difference, and you need your core group of players to mentor the younger players and steer the ship at a tournament like the Rugby World Cup,” said Barry.
“John Smit captained the Springboks to the 2007 title, but he had the likes of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Os du Randt, Schalk Burger and Fourie du Preez in support. That core group was central to South Africa’s success. The senior guys in the current squad need to play a similar leadership role.”
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