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    SA Super Rugby preview: The back threes

    2018-02-06 11:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - In the first of a six-part examination of the South African teams’ resources for Super Rugby 2018, Rob Houwing examines the various back threes … also providing a score out of 10 in each instance for expected level of health in the department.

    BULLS

    Finally blooded just a little out of best terrain at wing for the Springboks in two end-of-season matches last year (Italy and Wales respectively), Warrick Gelant nevertheless offered a pleasing glimpse of hope for the elusiveness and urgency he introduced to an otherwise often leaden-footed backline.

    With Allister Coetzee out of the way and Rassie Erasmus possibly less generously inclined toward the safe but predictable Andries Coetzee at No 15, a twinkle-toed Super Rugby campaign by the 22-year-old Gelant – expect John Mitchell to keep him in his premier spot? – might well earn him the Bok fullback role.

    Assuming they reach best-known personal standards (Mitchell is a tough taskmaster) the first-choice Bulls wings could well be Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismaiel, both of them tall timber and not too lacking in the power department, either.

    They ought to benefit in try opportunity terms from Mitchell’s patient quest to expand the Bulls’ repertoire of running lines and moves, and promote more patient and efficient build-up in phase play.

    But that’s about it for proven experience at wing/fullback in the Bulls’ ranks, unless versatile Jesse Kriel is shifted from midfield during the campaign.

    The youth factor comes from 21-year-old Namibian Divan Rossouw and Duncan Matthews, 23, who hails from the Cape’s west coast … but neither is yet tested at Super Rugby level.

    Back-three pool of talent rating: 6/10

    LIONS

    Although his Springbok form (in dubiously generous exposure from Coetzee) was quite unremarkable, Courtnall Skosan had become a key part of the Lions’ fabric … and all set for his fifth season for them until the dreaded “ACL” bogey struck recently.

    The Lions may now only see the predatory left wing in the very late stages of the 2018 event, at best.

    That downgrades their resources in the back three a fair bit, and keep in mind that the premier option on the right, that rounded footballer Ruan Combrinck, is only expected back from injury himself a couple of rounds into the new season.

    Still, once Combrinck (who can just as easily be comfortable at 15) is back, the Lions will take on a healthier look out wide; seasoned first-choice fullback Coetzee is like Skosan in generally showing his best mojo for his high-tempo franchise rather than in green and gold.

    They are not lacking in genuine fliers, either: another of their fullbacks, Sylvian Mahuza, is a thrill machine when in open space, and the same applies to additional squad wings like Kinshasa-born Madosh Tambwe, 20, and Aphiwe Dyantyi.

    Coach Swys du Bruin could also do a lot worse, if necessary, than deploy either of midfielders Lionel Mapoe or Rohan Janse van Rensburg in wider slots: the latter has often used his forceful, near-110kg frame before to bounce defenders backwards en route to the try-line near the corner-flag.

    Back-three pool of talent rating: 7/10

    SHARKS

    Fullback is just a tad thin for depth, but let’s face it: when it comes to wings, the Sharks should be the envy of most Super Rugby sides, both near and far, for remarkable pool of options there.

    Coach Robert du Preez will have the luxury of comfortable rotation during the long campaign, when you consider the availability of all of Makazole Mapimpi, Kobus van Wyk, Leolin Zas, Lwazi Mvovo and the stocky-thighed young S’bu Nkosi.

    With his son, Robert jnr, back in Durban and likely to occupy the critical flyhalf spot with his direct qualities, the 2018 Sharks should set up plenty of phases for attacks – certainly more than last year, you’d think - and bring these various “expresses” firmly into the try-scoring picture.

    In a couple of instances, polished defensive positioning and commitment will also do Bok prospects under the new national regime a power of good. 

    Yes, the last line of defence doesn’t show quite the same array of options, but at least the fullback berth will be rosily served by gifted, big-booted Curwin Bosch, on the reasonable assumption that this now becomes his primary duty. (Hopefully his tackling game has steeled up a bit between seasons?)

    If he gets injured there is a bit of a challenge, but Mvovo can deputise very competently at the back, and another pivot, Garth April, is also accustomed to some activity in the position – even if, at only around 80kg and 1.78m, he would be a target for some high bombs (not to mention big ball-carriers) at Super Rugby level.

    Back-three pool of talent rating: 8/10

    STORMERS

    Expect the Newlands-based side to require a bit of time to adjust to the loss of one of their major sources of backline X-factor in recent seasons, now France-based fullback and sometimes wing Cheslin Kolbe.

    Kolbe had his critics but, for his modest size, he was a very gutsy defender to go with his silky, hot-stepping attributes on attack.

    Some compensation is that SA Sevens speed merchant Seabelo Senatla gives it a full tonk in Super Rugby this year, although he still has a bit of a way to go to look the complete article in the XVs code.

    With Kolbe gone, expect SP Marais to pick up the bulk of the fullback duties in 2018; he also brings some elusive qualities and can assist in the place-kicking department at times.

    Versatile Bok Dillyn Leyds ought to bank one of the wing positions, and also challenge for No 15 where some pundits like former Stormers icon Jean de Villiers actually feel he is best suited.

    How wise was it for the Capetonians to invest in Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen, considering their much-publicised defensive shortcomings?

    We should quickly see, although the franchise have “muscled up” just a tad out wide by snapping up the 1.91m, almost 100kg utility journeyman JJ Engelbrecht - his nostalgic return to Newlands after some seven years elsewhere.

    Back-three pool of talent rating: 6.5/10

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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