Rookies of the year
Michael de Vries takes a look at the five rookies he felt made the biggest impact in 2013.
The South African rugby conveyer belt continues to produce fine young talent; we look at five newcomers who caught the eye this year.
One of the major strengths of South African rugby is the amount of talent constantly coming through the ranks and challenging the established players.
We have chosen five players who burst onto the Super Rugby scene this year and put themselves in the frame for higher honours.
There were a number of players who made an impression in the Currie Cup this year, and we will look at them in our ‘Players to watch in 2014’ feature.
So here are the five rookies of 2013:
Last year’s world junior player of the year has had to battle the weight of huge expectation, but showed that he will have no problem stepping up to the next level this year.
He was consistent for the Bulls in Super Rugby and looked threatening at Test level in the few opportunities he got to come off the bench for the Springboks.
Serfontein was young enough to play at the world junior championships again this year, but was unavailable because he had already been called up to the senior Bok squad for the June internationals.
The hard-running midfielder will be a key player in a relatively inexperienced Bulls backline next year, and his goal will be to start pushing for a regular spot in the Bok starting line-up.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
The Sharks lock started the year as one for the future and ended it as one for the present when he ran on for his first Springbok cap in Cardiff.
An athletic player who also has the ability to play blindside flank, as he did for the victorious Junior Springboks last year, Du Toit is being groomed for a long career at the top level.
He makes a major impact in open play and does not stand back in the tight exchanges, but still needs to develop his abilities as a line-out co-ordinator in order to be the complete package in the No.5 jersey.
He will be watched closely next year as he looks to fulfil the promise that has many tipping him as a long-term second row partner for Eben Etzebeth with the Boks.
Petersen’s first year out of school proved to be an eventful one, as he started it by scoring the Southern Kings’ first-ever try in Super Rugby.
His speed and energy out wide proved a real strike weapon for the Kings as he made the transition from schoolboy star to Super Rugby regular.
There is no doubt that he can still develop his game as he gains experience at whichever Super Rugby franchise he goes on loan to, but he certainly has plenty of raw talent.
The Cheetahs seem to have unearthed a successor to Juan Smith in Pieter Labuschagne whose incredible work rate stood out in his debut Super Rugby season.
The big flank gets through a mountain of work in defence, with few able to match his tackle stats, and caused some damage down the blindside with the ball in hand as well.
He was called up to the Springbok training squad, and although he was not able to pull on the national jersey it seems only a matter of time before he does.
His mission in 2014 will be to back up his performances in Super Rugby and start competing with the top blindside flanks in South Africa.
Lodewyk de Jager
The towering Cheetahs lock made a big impression in his debut season, and having just celebrated his 21st birthday he looks an exciting prospect.
At 2.05 metres and 125 kilograms he certainly has the physicality to add grunt to any pack, and also boasts an incredible work-rate.
He was invaluable in what was the Cheetahs’ best-ever Super Rugby season, providing a reliable presence in the line-outs and making more than his share of tackles.
At this stage he is still something of a rough diamond who will benefit from getting more experience in Super Rugby before challenging for a spot in the Springbok squad.
By Michael de Vries