Cape Town – There’d been a mounting clamour for his presence anyway, but the final round of Currie Cup round-robin play only swelled the likelihood that Warrick Gelant will, at very least, earn a squad ticket on the Springbok end-of-year tour.
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His current form and confidence are such that even the chance of a fast-track, match-day presence and potential debut in the daunting opener against Ireland in Dublin on November 11 can hardly be ruled out, unless head coach Allister Coetzee harbours reservations about the 22-year-old that we don’t necessarily know about.
The Bok backline lacking in true excitement factor continues to be a significant hampering aspect to the quest for renewed respect as a top-tier nation and Gelant, at a very convenient time, looks as though he could provide some enticing solutions.
The Blue Bulls No 15 was almost irresistible as an advantage line-breaching factor from the back of the park as the Blue Bulls helped ensure a semi-final presence – away to the table-topping Sharks next Saturday – by romping to a 52-32 triumph over the Pumas at Loftus on Friday.
He scored a try and had a massive hand in two or three others as the Bulls served further notice that they may just be turning a corner under the guiding hand of well-travelled director of rugby John Mitchell.
Before this win, which later ensured a fourth-placed finish on the log, the Bulls had also thrashed the Cheetahs 64-36 in Bloemfontein and only been agonisingly undone a week earlier in Pretoria by Damian Willemse’s last-gasp penalty for Western Province in a 91-point thriller.
Along the way in that trio of fixtures, where they have run some welcome new creative lines, Gelant has revelled in the try column: five in total, which have also secured him the honour of leading scorer (nine) competition-wide ahead of the semis.
Those who may contend that we should be wary of using the present, much-diluted Currie Cup as too much of a yardstick for international credentials have a point, and a further lobby may argue that Gelant wasn’t too flash in a near-lamentable 2017 Super Rugby campaign by the Bulls.
But it needs to be kept in mind that at the time, the Knysna-born swerving, jinking runner was still slowly recapturing his mojo after a badly season-slashing cruciate ligament injury in mid-2016.
Right now, he looks so much more like the natural crowd-pleaser who showed so much potential for the SA under-20 side over the course of successive years from 2014.
Gelant has already been included in Bok squads during the current Test year, without yet earning a cap, so he must be considered very much a “thereabouts” element anyway, but a passage to Europe and immediate debut at the Aviva Stadium just looks so much likelier for him as things stand.
It is perfectly possible, of course, that Bok fullback incumbent Andries Coetzee of the Lions will hold onto his starting berth for the first of the four tour challenges.
He tends more toward the dependable and functional, if you like, than especially silky-skilled in the last line of defence, but he put in a gutsy shift in the encouraging near-miss against the All Blacks at Newlands and the Bok brains trust may not be inclined to jettison him just yet.
Now nine-capped, Coetzee’s fairly “safety-first” instincts could be pretty close to what the doctor orders anyway in wintry northern-hemisphere conditions, where Tests are often won up front and with accurate kicking off the tee and for territory a pivotal element as well.
Gelant’s defensive mettle would admittedly be put to searching scrutiny if he rocketed to the Bok No 15 jersey against the Irish, or against later foes on the trek.
But even as the likes of centre Jesse Kriel and wing Dillyn Leyds offer transferable qualities as fullbacks, Gelant’s own, overall footballing instincts make him a feasible option as a versatile off-the-bench man.
Remember that former Bok coach Nick Mallett noted much earlier in the season that Gelant (his near-90kg frame also a comfort) could look the part as a Test wing, whilst more recently his provincial main mentor Mitchell spoke enthusiastically of his possibilities as an outside centre because of his penchant for “turning a defender inside out”.
That could mean the player becoming a serious counter-option to, say, Damian de Allende, as a Bok substitute, particularly given that current reserve flyhalf Handre Pollard also comfortably enough covers De Allende’s specialist spot of inside centre …
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