Bulls No 8 Duane Vermeulen’s 60 minute cameo against the Stormers in Cape Town was my South African Rainbow Cup Saturday highlight.
Veteran Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn continues to provide comfort that if Handre Pollard is not available because of injury, he can play that pivotal role in the Test series against the British & Irish Lions.
Everything in the next two months, when it comes to the Rainbow Cup (SA) is about how it positively influences the Springboks Test series against the British & Irish Lions.
Vermeulen’s return is a blessing. He looked strong, if nowhere near his imposing self when firing at his best for the Springboks. Game time is the crucial thing for the senior Springboks and the biggest plus to take from Saturday’s matches is that Vermeulen got through 60 minutes, Pieter-Steph du Toit got through 80 minutes for the Stormers and came close to manufacturing a match-winning try, and in Durban Bok captain Siya Kolisi put in a big shift.
Minutes on the clock is what matters currently for the Springboks contenders, the core of which will come for the 2019 Rugby World Cup success.
The all-Bok Stormers front row of Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe were strong, and they have been whenever they have played in Super Rugby Unlocked, the 2020 Currie Cup, the Preparation Series or the early rounds of the Rainbow Cup SA.
Damian Willemse, starting at fullback for the Stormers, will be in the extended Springboks squad, but with the Stormers coaching staff not convinced about his starting role, Willemse is playing as if in two minds. He wants to be closer to the action and when he gets there from phase play, he shows glimpses of his debut season. Mostly, he is starved of involvement from the back and it saps at his confidence.
Bulls centre Cornal Hendricks continues to remind the national coaches of his presence, Marco van Staden, playing on the edge, still concedes too many penalties and there wasn’t much else in the Bulls set-up that screamed ‘pick me for the Lions series’.
In the early game, the ill-discipline of the Lions worked a treat for the Sharks, who were never in danger of losing.
Aphelele Fassi will make the greater national squad and he is a better player every time he plays a competitive match. Sibusiso Nkosi is adding swagger to his strength and Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am grows in composure and stature every time he plays. Sharks No 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe is another who was in the Bok set up, fell out of favour and is desperate to be a part of the Lions series. He is not yet breaking down the national door as he did in the early stages of the 2020 Super Rugby competition.
Sharks props Thomas du Toit and Ox Nche were okay without being imposing. They will need bigger performances in the next month.
As for the Lions, on the evidence of Saturday’s defeat in Durban, there wasn’t one player in the match 23 who will make the Springboks match day 23 for the first Test at the Cape Town Stadium, in Cape Town.
What you can take from this snap shot overview of the Rainbow Cup SA is how reliant Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus will be on the overseas-based South African contingent.
If we were picking exclusively from the domestic competition, the Lions series would be far more daunting.