Despite having to settle for a match-up with Argentina in the 3rd/4th place playoff at this year’s World Rugby U20 Championship, SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will have been pleased with what he saw from the next generation of Springboks, not least so the performances of fly-half James Mollentze.
Alongside the likes of Phendulani Buthelezi, Rikus Pretorius, JJ van der Mescht and the scrum-half pairing of Jaden Hendrikse and Sanele Nohamba, Mollentze spearheaded a multi-faceted Junior Springbok side that, whilst having enviable physical ability, did not lack for technical skill or game understanding.
A semi-final against eventual champions France proved too much for Chean Roux’s side, but they responded well a few days later, seeing off hosts Argentina, 41-16.
The 20-year-old fly-half, who was a part of the Free State U19 side last year, has signed a two-year deal with the Lions, RugbyPass understands.
The news comes swiftly on the back of Elton Jantjies agreeing a two-year extension to his contract with the franchise, with the Rugby World Cup-bound Springbok bringing quality and continuity to the group for the 2020 Super Rugby season. Mollentze will now have an opportunity to hone his craft alongside Jantjies, providing depth initially, before potentially succeeding the veteran, should Jantjies move abroad for a bigger payday.
The Lions have lost Lionel Mapoe, Nic Groom and Ruan Combrinck in their back line among others this year and the consistency and future planning that Jantjies and Mollentze provide at such a key position is welcome news for the Johannesburg-based franchise.
A comfortable operator taking the ball to and executing on the gain-line, as well as a physical and technically refined tackler, Mollentze is still a work in progress as an overall player, but has the raw materials in place to develop and help the Lions achieve their ambitions in Super Rugby.
With the trio of Wandisile Simelane, Tyrone Green and Gianni Lombard having risen to prominence at the senior level this past season, the Lions are developing an enviable young core to their back line. If they can be retained and nurtured over the coming seasons, the franchise will be in a good place to maintain their current proficiency as an attacking force.
As for the Cheetahs, they will rue yet another talented player coming through the Free State pathway to end up playing their provincial rugby in one of the other major South African unions.
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