The Super Rugby season kicked off yesterday with the Lions snatching a cheeky win against the Cheetahs and the Sharks bullying the Bulls in a one-sided affair. In the first of a series, The Con has chosen three players who you should look out for in this year’s tournament. These are players we are tipping to have a breakthrough season.
Lubabalo “Tera” Mtembu
Position: Eighth man / flank
Springbok caps: 0
With a handful of sterling performances in last year’s Currie Cup and Super Rugby tournaments, Sharks eighth man Lubabalo Mtembu has shown that he has talent in spades. But will 2014 be the year wherein which the 23-year-old establishes himself as a regular starter in the Sharks team? Mtembu was sidelined by injuries last year, particularly his shoulder injury, which struck as he was establishing himself in the team after a few starts on the Sharks’ tour to Australia and New Zealand. He returned for the 2013 Currie Cup, earning five caps, two as a starter. The Sharks management obviously backs the player. Former Sharks Academy director Hans Scriba ranked him among recent graduates that have the potential to become Springboks.
But that’s a tough ask in a Sharks team in which he is competing for a place against loose forwards like Springboks Willem Alberts, Marcel Coetzee and Jean Deysel, as well as captain Keegan Daniel and journeyman Jacques Botes. Mtembu hails from East London and captained the first team at Dale College, which has a prestigious rugby heritage. After high school he represented Border Rugby Union at under-18 level, after which he joined the Sharks’ under-20 team in 2010 at the age of 19. In that year he played for South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in the Sevens team and represented South Africa in the 15-man version at the Under-20 World Cup. He slowly edged his way into the Sharks’ Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup teams, and then made his Super Rugby debut in 2012. The same year he was voted player of the tournament at the SA Club Championships. – Lloyd Gedye
Position: Prop (both sides)
Springbok caps: 3
Trevor Nyakane had a turbulent season in 2013. After some spectacular form in Super Rugby for the Cheetahs, he was selected for the Springbok squad ahead of the 2013 incoming tour and made his debut as a replacement against Italy. The excitement on his face as he took the field was palpable, and when he scored his first Test try against Samoa on June 22, it felt like Nyakane was on the up and up. Then he was dropped from the Springbok squad in August, just before the start of the Rugby Championship, after he was late for a team video analysis session. The official word from the Bok camp was he “repeatedly breached team protocol”, with stories emerging of arriving late for training sessions, as well as missed meetings and flights. But coach Heyneke Meyer left a lifeline open for Nyakane. “There are no grudges there,” Meyer said at the time. “I still believe he is a great player with a great future.” “But I believe that if I keep on making exceptions then he won’t learn from this,” he added. Many feel that Nyakane was hard done by, but if the prop is focused in 2014, there should be no stopping him from reclaiming his spot in the Springbok squad.
The 24–year-old Nyakane has come along way from his home in Bushbuckridge, where he was born in 1989. He attended Ben Vorster High School in Tzaneen, and after playing Craven Week in 2007 for the Limpopo team he was signed by Free State and played his way through the youth ranks. He got his big chance when he came on as an impact player for the Cheetahs in in the 2011 Currie Cup season and again impressed in his debut Super Rugby season in 2012, playing in 11 of the Cheetahs’ games. He then suffered a knee injury and missed most of the rest of the 2012 season. By 2013 he was a regular starter for the Cheetahs, and his ability to play on both sides of the scrum make him an even more attractive prop-forward talent. Nyakane is a great prospect for South African rugby and hopefully 2014 is the year he reaches out and grabs his future. – Lloyd Gedye
Pieter-Steph du Toit
Springbok caps: 2
Pieter-Steph du Toit is the grandson of PS du Toit, the former Springbok prop who was popularly known as Spiere. Spiere represented the Springboks 14 times between 1958 and 1961 as a tight-head prop, and his appearances included a series against the All Blacks in 1960. In his grandson, Spiere has given SA rugby a great gift, a giant of a man. Du Toit stands at 2m tall and is a hefty 116kg. He has the athleticism of a backline player and the strength of a seasoned back rower; his line speed is not bad either. He was a member of the South African under-20 squad that won the IRB Junior World Cup in 2012. In that team he played as an open-side flanker, and although he is a lock by trade he played like a seasoned number 7.
The Sharks quickly snapped up the highly rated youngster in 2010 after a stint at the SA under-18 High Performance Squad. He quickly moved up the ranks in the Sharks structures, making his senior Super Rugby debut for the Sharks in 2012. The 21-year-old made a seamless transition into the senior ranks and put in some sterling performances in the Sharks’ victorious Currie Cup campaign last year. He and Bismarck du Plessis led the physical charge the Sharks made to get to the final and in the match itself. In the dying stages of the second half of that final, just when Western Province was mounting a serious challenge, Demetri Catrakilis got a sloppy ball from the scrumhalf and made a slight fumble. Within milliseconds Du Toit and Du Plessis were on him, tackling both man and ball. The 2014 season will bring a lot of changes to the Sharks family– a new CEO, a new coach, and new title and stadium sponsors. He will no doubt blossom under Jake White and earn many more Springbok caps after making his debut against Wales in last year’s tour. Du Toit is coming up; Fast. – Malusi Mbambo
Photo Credit: Rebels vs Sharks in 2011 by Stemoc