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The Future of Rugby: South Africa U23

By Alex Shaw
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

We round up our Future of Rugby series with a look at South Africa, the reigning World Cup champions and No1 ranked side in the world, and the U23 options available to them. A lot was made of how young the England side that faced the Springboks in that recent November 2019 final was, although South Africa were far from a team at the end of their powers either with plenty of talented youngsters and players just beginning to enter their prime. There looks to be a lot more to come as well as the South African player pool earns envious glances from many rival nations (for the purposes of this XV, only players aged 23 or younger on May 1, 2020, were considered eligible for selection).


15. Damian Willemse, Stormers

Previously heralded as South Africa’s next star fly-half, Willemse (pictured above right with Willie le Roux after the RWC final) has settled more easily into a role at full-back since transitioning from age-grade to senior rugby although there is still scope for him to play either position at the highest level. Lionel April, a standout for Tuks in the Varsity Cup, is another to watch having made the same move from fly-half to full-back that Willemse has.

14. Aphelele Fassi, Sharks

We have moved Fassi over from full-back to wing, something that not only allows for the strongest back three here, it is also something which could well happen if rugby adopts the 50:22 kicking law and full-back skill sets on both wings become more of a priority. He has excelled for the Sharks and looks like a Springbok in waiting at this point.

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13. Wandisile Simelane, Lions

An honourable mention here for Marnus Potgieter, although very few up and coming outside centres will get close to Simelane. The twinkle-toed Lions centre is as gifted an attacking prospect as you could hope to find. As he rounds out the other areas of his game in Johannesburg, he should begin to push his name into the mix for senior international involvement.

12. Rikus Pretorius, Stormers

The subject of plenty of interest from the Bulls and incoming head coach Jake White, Pretorius ticks all the physical boxes of a powerful inside centre. He became more comfortable as a distributor in his second season of U20s rugby and the Stormers will be doing everything they can to keep hold of the talented centre.

11. Tyrone Green, Lions

Green’s transition from age-grade to senior rugby has been one of the more seamless ones in South African rugby of late, and although the Lions have struggled since Johan Ackermann’s departure, Green has been a consistent option for them out wide. With Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi at the other end of their careers, there are potential openings in the Springbok back three moving forward.


10. Curwin Bosch, Sharks

Bosch flirted with the transition that Willemse has made to full-back, but the departure of Rob du Preez has given him control of the Sharks’ 10 jersey and he has thrived as a result of that. The ex-schoolboy and Craven Week star now looks to the manor born in Super Rugby, something which keeps him ahead here of the likes of Mannie Libbok, Gianni Lombard, James Mollentze and budding Ikeys fly-half James Tedder.

9. Embrose Papier, Bulls

There is a nice array of nine options here for South Africa, with the Lions’ Morne van den Berg in the mix, as well as the highly promising Sharks pair, Sanele Nohamba, Jaden Hendrikse. For now, Papier is the man leading the group having already got a taste of international rugby with the Springboks. His electric breaks around the fringes make him a threat from anywhere on the pitch.

1. Kwenzo Blose, Stormers

He is in competition with Maties loosehead Dian Bleuler, who is the next cab off the rank after Blose in the South Africa U20s side. The loosehead has cut his teeth with Western Province in the Currie Cup and will be hoping to make the leap to regular involvement with the Stormers as the understudy to Steven Kitshoff when Super Rugby eventually returns.

2. Johan Grobbelaar, Bulls


The Sharks’ Dylan Richardson looks as if as he is forging his senior career at hooker, although there is still time for him to deployed as an openside flanker instead. Grobbelaar is an out and out hooker, though, and has begun backing up an excellent age-grade career with some strong showings for the Bulls at Super Rugby level.

3. Carlu Sadie, Lions

A word for the raw talent that is Asenathi Ntlabakanye, but we have gone for Sadie, his team-mate at the Lions, as the ex-Stormer is a couple of years ahead of him in his development. The two prop positions are areas where South Africa will need to find some new talent before the next World Cup, so Sadie could be in luck if he can continue to consistently perform for the Lions.

4. JJ van der Mescht, Sharks

There were few players more impressive in U20s rugby last season than van der Mescht, something which has caught the attention of clubs at home and abroad. The dynamic lock looks for all money like a future Springbok star and it’s a shame that the current Super Rugby season, which could well have been his breakout campaign at the senior level, has been so heavily impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

5. Ruan Nortje, Bulls

Salmaan Moerat is a talent and was a captain of the South Africa U20s side, although it is his partner in that age-grade engine room that we have opted for here. Nortje was excellent in that U20s season and has since built on that with typically impressive performances for Tuks in the Varsity Cup and the Bulls in Super Rugby. South Africa’s lock stocks are in incredibly formidable shape.

6. Jaco Coetzee, Stormers

Nods here for the Lions flank pairing of Hacjivah Dayimani and Vincent Tshituka, both of whom have been developing well in Johannesburg, but Coetzee is a stellar talent whose reputation would already be much higher were it not for significant injuries earlier in his career. Versatile enough to pack down anywhere in the back row, Coetzee could be the next debutant in the Springbok back row.

7. Celimpilo Gumede, Sharks

Still somewhat raw as a technical rugby player, Gumede has all the tools to become a formidable and impactful loose forward. The Sharks desire to seemingly develop Richardson as a hooker helps clear space for Gumede in the franchise’s talented corps of back rowers and he is one of the spearheads of the youth movement currently going on in Durban.

8. Phepsi Buthelezi, Sharks

Thankfully for South Africa, Rassie Erasmus has no shortage of options to develop as Duane Vermeulen’s eventual successor. Juarno Augustus, Muller Uys and Junior Pokomela are all on the radar, but we have opted for Buthelezi primarily because of his skills as a leader on the pitch as well as his more successful transition to senior rugby than some of his rivals.


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