Cape Town – Some will probably sigh and be quick
to brand him an old-style South African “basher” at No 12, who would bring little
fresh and bold to the national cause.
But even if Andre Esterhuizen isn’t the
most subtle of rugby players in the world, the Sharks inside centre is
increasingly hard to ignore as a Springbok candidate under Allister Coetzee’s
Or put it this way: there is an increasing
onus on Bok incumbent Damian de Allende to rediscover his pre-injury mojo in a
hurry if he is to be a shoe-in for the first side picked by new coach Coetzee
to play Ireland at Newlands on June 11.
Already there has been rightful debate
around the pleasing mini-renaissance of the Bulls’ Jan Serfontein as a Bok
midfield prospect – a strong personal wish is that he only be considered for
the inside berth – but now the big unit Esterhuizen is pushing with increasing
vigour for that role too.
A few months ago, it would have been a
no-brainer that the sturdy and deft-offloading De Allende be the automatic pick
for the June Tests after his performances in green and gold amounted to one of
the few truly bright developments in an otherwise turbulent Bok 2015 calendar
But his recovery from long-term injury has
been slower than anticipated; he still looks a yard off the pace both on attack
and retreat, where the normally defence-proud Stormers have been leaking more
tries of late than they would like – often due to midfield lapses.
De Allende needs to figuratively pull up
his socks (I say that because he has a penchant for more literally having them
near his ankles) in the Vodacom Super Rugby game against the modest Sunwolves
in Singapore on Saturday, because time is beginning to run short for him to confirm
his readiness for the more elevated level in the June “window”.
As for Esterhuizen, the former SA under-20
star narrowed the gap pretty significantly, you would think, with a towering
personal effort in the Sharks’ 32-15 thumping of the Hurricanes in Durban last
There were plenty of other committed
contributors – especially from a physical point of view, where the Du Preez
loose forward twins were unrelenting and remorseless – but Esterhuizen’s dominance
of the No 12 channel both for “go-forward” and as a no-way-past stopper was
another major key to the unexpectedly convincing triumph.
The comparisons between the 22-year-old
with roots in the North West Province and an illustrious Sharks midfield (and
elsewhere) predecessor, the single-minded Frans Steyn, are obvious: both are
strapping fellows with almost identical tales of the tape.
Now Montpellier-based, Steyn, who turns 29
on Saturday, tips the scales around 110kg and stands at 1.91m, whilst
Esterhuizen is also close to the 110kg mark and supposedly a fraction taller at
The latter probably lacks Steyn’s all-round
game – not, for example, having a boot of special renown – but he is very much
a specialist at twelve so doesn’t have to fret too much about certain other
Coach Coetzee has already said that despite
his wish to expand the Boks’ playing-style repertoire, he acknowledges their proven
virtues in physicality, so don’t expect him to suddenly start picking teams
made up of 15 silky-skilled, nippy Bambis.
In fact, if he is partial –as seems
likelier than under the Heyneke Meyer rule – to someone like the elusive Juan
de Jongh in the No 13 spot, Esterhuizen is the type of hulking character who
could be a good centre foil a few paces closer to the primary heat of battle.
His option-taking still leaves a bit to be
desired times, but he seems to be
developing in that respect and is not averse to the odd bit of “Sonny Bill”
passing trickery out of contact situations.
For all the talk of the Boks trying to play
a more confident and polished ball-in-hand sort of game henceforth, the Sharks
reminded again last Saturday that success against top New Zealand outfits –
whether it be at Super Rugby or Test level – can still be earned occasionally
through old-fashioned bullying and dogged determination, which can help punch
holes for attack once you have done the crude “grunt” stuff.
In that respect, someone like Esterhuizen
really wouldn’t be such a barmy SA choice, especially if you looked out of a
window on a Saturday morning and realised that a Test match was going to be a
tight arm-wrestle in muddy, heavy conditions.
Mind you, that’s hardly suggesting the
24-year-old De Allende’s international goose is suddenly cooked after only 13
appearances; he may well be part of the most solid Bok furniture again before
you know it.
Esterhuizen is simply at that stage of
saying “please notice me” …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing