Best Signings by SA United Rugby Championship Teams

Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies the best signings the South African franchises have made for the second season of the United Rugby Championship kicking off on Friday.

BULLS:

Sbu Nkosi

Seeking a fresh start after an injury saw his career-making rise at the Sharks fizzle out last year, the uncaged animal that is Nkosi is ready to take names in the light blue of the Bulls. 

Ultra-dynamic, the Springbok winger’s a super athlete and deadly finisher, whose arrival in Pretoria coincides with the departure of Madosh Tambwe to Bordeaux. 

With new teammates Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie among the 2022 class of Springbok debutants and Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi the world champions’ first-choice flyers, Nkosi needs a big first season at the Bulls to reclaim his place in the national squad ahead of next year’s World Cup. 

Wandisile Simelane

Nicolas Cage was once one of Hollywood’s leading actors, starring in classics like Con Air and Gone in 60 Seconds. Since then, he’s been content with churning out B-level movies at a rapid rate. 

I mention this as the title of one of Cage’s latest offerings, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, could be used to explain why some young prodigies don’t enjoy the same success as others in the senior game.  

Simelane was the Junior Springbok Player of the Year in 2018 and most expected the creative, hot-stepping centre would be a full-fledged Bok by now. A lack of consistency at the Lions has been the one thing holding him back but at 24, he’s far from a lost cause. 

His move across the Jukskei is exciting, both for him and the Bulls, and exactly what he needs to realise his potential.

LIONS:

Andries Coetzee

“Boeboes” is back. Home is where the heart is and Coetzee’s return to his beloved Ellis Park could see him return to his best after a season in Japan and another hampered by injury frustrations at Benetton last year. 

As one of the stars of the pride that reached three successive Super Rugby finals, he’s a Lions legend and as such, he’ll play as important a mentoring role to the likes of Tiaan Swanepoel and Quan Horn as he will on the field on game days. 

A 13-cap Springbok, the experience and composure the 32-year-old brings to the young team will be invaluable. 

Marius Louw

Coming up from the KwaZulu-Natal coast, Louw has big shoes to fill. Burger Odendaal was immense for the Lions last season, both as captain and a standout airbus-esque figure in midfield, and filling that void falls to Louw. 

They’re similar in that they’re generally considered really good provincial players, with that being their ceiling. Odendaal, however, had the consistently stellar season that had many mentioning his name in the Springbok conversation last year and while the call-up didn’t come, it earned him a Wasps contract. 

The move to the Lions can do the same for Louw, with the increased game time and full-throated backing he’s set to receive providing the opportunity for growth. The 26-year-old’s as tough as they come, so he has the make-up to become the Johannesburg side’s next warhorse at No 12. 

SHARKS: 

Eben Etzebeth

A dominant force with a world of experience, the Springbok centurion is a major coup for any team. It could be argued, though, that the blockbuster move to the Sharks from Toulon will bring the best out of him as he reunites with good friends, national brothers in arms and former Stormers teammates Siya Kolisi and Bongi Mbonambi.  

As I wrote ahead of his 100th Test against Wales in Cape Town in July, to call the 30-year-old an enforcer is to shortchange him. He’s the total package – a smart and skilled lineout jumper with a serious motor on top of being a brutalizer. 

That said, it is his bruising physicality and roaring intensity that the Sharks are shy on. With his never-failing fear factor and controlled aggression, Etzebeth’s set to give an already powerhouse pack the hard edge it needs to go to the next level.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg

Since losing Andre Esterhuizen to Harlequins in 2020, the Sharks had sought an agent of chaos at inside centre and they’ve found their man in Janse van Rensburg, who joins them from Sale. 

The 1.85m and 109kg burly barnstormer has made a living out of smashing through stonewall defences with his strength and explosiveness. Quick off the mark and a consistent source of go-forward ball, he’s the perfect partner for Lukhanyo Am. 

Unfortunately, that intended dream combination will have to wait, with Am having suffered a season-ending injury but, nevertheless, the punch Janse van Rensburg provides is a massive plus. Still only 27 and hungry to add to the solitary Springbok cap he won in 2016, expect him to make a big splash. 

STORMERS: 

Joseph Dweba

Despite his recent struggles at Test level, Dweba is a top talent and a crucial coup for the Cape franchise, who endured a hooker injury curse last year, to the point that they had to field their third and fourth-choice youngsters in the final in JJ Kotze and Andre-Hugo Venter. 

Given his misfiring in the Rugby Championship, the immediate focus in his first games for the Stormers will be on his lineout throwing. It’s an area he’s traditionally been strong in, from his SA Schools and Junior Springbok days to his time at the Cheetahs and most recently Bordeaux, so there won’t be any buyer’s remorse. 

His greatest strength – and the main reason he’s been brought to the Mother City – is just that – his strength. He’s an absolute powerhouse who has a knack for scorching off on barnstorming runs and has downright scary pace for a man his size. 

Clayton Blommetjies

A mercurial playmaker who’s matured into a dependable all-rounder without losing his spark, Blommetjies is a like-for-like replacement for Warrick Gelant, who earned a big-money contract from Racing 92 with his heroics in the Stormers’ triumphant inaugural URC season.

Synonymous with Cheetahs rugby, having dazzled for the Bloemfontein side for a decade, the call to come to Cape Town has probably come later than the Paarl-born wizard had hoped, but that will only motivate the 32-year-old more to make the most of the opportunity. 

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Author: editor

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