Springbok coach's fullback 'problem'
OPINION: Selecting a suitable fullback is certainly not a headache for new Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber.
It is safe to say that Willie Le Roux is expected to wear South Africa’s No.15 jersey when the British and Irish Lions visit in 2021.
The 30-year-old is the first-choice fullback and will certainly be a major part in Nienaber’s squad at the 2023 World Cup in France.
However, selecting Le Roux’s backup is not as obvious for Springbok selectors.
Last year then Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus found himself in a similar predicament – as loads of suitable replacements surfaced throughout the year.
There was Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Dillyn Leyds (Stormers), Andries Coetzee (Lions) and Erasmus’ preferred ‘fullback’ Damian Willemse.
Erasmus made no secret of his plans for Willemse. The Director of Rugby was dead set on moving the 21-year-old from flyhalf to fullback despite blistering criticism.
The 47-year-old stuck to his decision, which was ultimately a good one – as Willemse looked more comfortable operating from fullback.
This year is no different.
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Many, especially Stormers head coach John Dobson, prefers Willemse at flyhalf. The 21-year-old started most of this year’s suspended Super Rugby season at flyhalf.
Willemse was not horrendous at No.10. However, his poor kicking-game and lack of decision-making made is overall form appear average.
And, as we all know, Willemse’s talent and skills are certainly far from average.
The Stormers star is a dynamic game-breaker with tremendous X-factor. It is more than obvious that he deserves a shot at that Springboks’ No.15 jersey.
Aside from Willemse, Gelant and the cast-aside Leyds are all vying for a Springbok spot.
Gelant has been the senior playmaker at the Bulls, while Leyds has been one of the stand-out performers for the Stormers.
However, a new star has been making waves.
The 22-year-old Sharks sensation Apheleli Fassi has been a revelation and his form has certainly handed Nienaber a very pleasant ‘headache’.
Purely based on form after seven rounds of Super Rugby one could say Fassi is one of South Africa’s best fullbacks at the moment.
Out of all the fullback options, Fassi has made the most line-out breaks and top the charts with the most defenders beaten.
Fassi is not only phenomenal on attack, but he has taken his game to another level, by developing his kicking-game with the help of former Springbok flyhalf Pat Lambie.
The bonus for Nienamber is the current crop of fullbacks’ versatility makes it easy for them to cover a number of positions in the backline – certainly a worry worth having.