'He's really knocked the door down on that side': How the Springboks now rate Jasper Wiese
Rassie Erasmus has spoken this week about how it is suddenly an advantage that South Africa have so many players based overseas, not only their Springboks but uncapped players such as Jasper Wiese at Leicester who wouldn’t have been on their radar before. South African rugby officials used to habitually foam at the mouth in exasperation over how the low value of the rand left them vulnerable to the far more lucrative sterling, euro and yen, money that convinced so many of their players that their club careers were best served by being based away from home.
That trend has diluted the potential strength of the domestic product, a decline reflected in how there wasn’t a Super Rugby winner from South Africa since the Bulls were crowned champions in 2010. However, the powers that be are no longer moaning about this talent drain.
With the pandemic leading to the break-up of the old Super Rugby set-up and leaving the four main franchises existing on a seemingly endless repeat cycle of local derbies, it has become a blessing in disguise that so many South Africans are plying their trade abroad and thriving in better intensity tournaments.
Everyone recognises the stars and how they are doing. Cheslin Kolbe was crowned a Heineken Champions Cup winners last weekend with Toulouse, Handre Pollard became a Challenge Cup champion for Montpellier while Faf de Klerk is in the thick of Sale’s battle to clinch a Gallagher Premiership title, Friday night’s epic victory over league leaders Bristol the latest step on that journey.
However, with the director of rugby Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber set to unveil a 45-strong squad next Saturday for the Springboks Test series versus Georgia and the Lions, and the South Africa A game versus Warren Gatland’s tourists, there is plenty of scope for some previously unheralded players working abroad to force their way in.
For years South African officials bemoaned the loss of Springboks to wealthier overseas clubs but they have now revised that opinion ahead of the Lions tour https://t.co/OeDzS8PnnU
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 28, 2021
Take Wiese, the 25-year-old No8 who has forced his way into the Springboks conversation vis his recent prominence in England with Leicester. He had learned his trade with the Guinness PRO14 Cheetahs, playing on their pre-pandemic tour against Leinster and Ulster in Ireland in February 2020. But that was the end of the line for the Bloemfontein-based franchise, the Cheetahs left high and dry by that league after three years criss-crossing the equator.
It left Wiese in a pickle: there were no opportunities at home with pandemic closing down the game, but it opened the door for Leicester to pounce. Aside from last week’s try-scoring appearance in the Challenge Cup final, there have been a lively dozen Premiership appearances in which he has carried 162 times for a 651-metre gain, beaten 50 defenders, given four offloads, won four turnovers and scored three tries.
On the flip side, there have been 16 penalties conceded, ten turnovers coughed up, two yellow cards and one red, but those downsides haven’t stopped hype being generated that Wiese is set for a Springboks squad call-up, something he wouldn’t have been in the frame for if he had stayed at home after the Cheetahs’ PRO14 adventure ground to a half.
Erasmus and Nienaber had asked the media at their end-of-week conference not to quiz them on selection speculation, to just let next weekend’s squad announcement happen and then they would be happy to talk. However, after Erasmus had spoken about his sudden satisfaction that so many South Africans were earning their living abroad in these pandemic times, Nienaber wound up answering at length a specific question on Wiese and his emergence in recent months at Leicester to become a possible fresh Springboks pick.
“I want to latch on to what Rassie said in the previous comment that we are actually lucky in terms of our players being exposed to so many competitions abroad,” said Nienaber ahead of Wiese’s latest appearance for Leicester in Saturday’s trip to bottom club Worcester.
“Jasper is probably one of those players. Locally he would have played almost trials (if he stayed at home) but now he has had the opportunity to go and play in the Premiership and he really knocked the door down on that side.
“He is really performing well and I guess he blossomed there, got exposed there and we got a good look at him. He is playing at a top-level competition against some of the best players in the world and he is handling himself quite well. He is in a good environment at Leicester, he has got good quality coaches there, we know Aled (Walters) from the Springboks who is working on the performance side of that.
“Jasper is in an environment where he is well looked after from a conditioning point of view, from a coaching point of view and there is good communication between us and Leicester. It’s always nice when that happens, a good relationship with a club. It’s tough for us to compete with your guys’ currency, the rand against the pound.
“We would advise them not to go but if a player does want to go and there is an opportunity it’s nice for us to say, listen, here is an awesome club like Leicester which we have a good relationship with, we think your rugby would thrive there, you will become a better player and that will work well with us. It’s always nice to advance your career.
“Ninety per cent of the clubs are like that. We do have a few challenges with some of the clubs and in the future let’s say a player wants to leave, just be mindful we don’t always have the access to you when you go to certain clubs which might hamper your playing career with the Springboks, just have that in the back of your mind. On Jasper, I must say he is really playing well and performing well and let’s hope he continues doing that going into the back end of the season.”
Erasmus and Nienaber have fronted media 22 days after Gatland named his squad of 37 https://t.co/e1nG1nRy5P
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 28, 2021
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