The all-South African loose trio of Hanro Liebenberg, Jasper Wiese and Marco Van Staden have been at the heart of Leicester Tiger’s early dominance of the 2021/22 English Premiership season, and their consistency is testament to the quality of player produced by South Africa, writes Oliver Keohane.
Leicester have played six games, won six games and currently sit at the top of the of Premiership table, six points clear of next-best, the Harlequins. Their dominance thus far in the season is indisputable and while 23 men make up the match day squad every weekend, it is hard to look past the particular influence of a loose-trio comprised entirely of South Africans
Leicester’s latest signing of the three has been Marco Van Staden, who was playing for the Bulls up until the start of 2021. Van Staden debuted for the Springboks against Argentina in 2018, but for the first time this year has seen some regular game time, and impressed many over the course of the British & Irish Lions series and Rugby Championship as an explosive and impactful substitute flanker.
Van Staden specialises at openside flank and he is a menace over the ball and in the tackle, which is not to say he is not abrasive or unwilling in his carries. In fact, Van Staden, contrary to the general trend of opensiders before him, has appeared eager to carry and explosive in contact. His cameo against the All Blacks in the Springboks first narrow loss to them during the Rugby Championship is one such performance that comes to mind.
In his last two games for the Tigers, Van Staden has contributed with 51 tackles and he has not had a poor game this season.
Springbok counterpart Jasper Wiese has stolen much of the spotlight this year though, and his performances for Leicester are actually what earned him a Springbok call up. Wiese left South Africa a fairly unrecognised loose forward in a local pool unforgiving to flankers and eighthmen, but ended up being the form Number 8 in the English Premiership.
Wiese delivered on his domestic promise when he was asked to fill the boots of the injured Duane Vermeulen during the British & Irish Lions series, and after helping the Springboks to a series win he grew further in his role over the Rugby Championship, playing at 8 and on the flank, under the tutelage of Vermeulen.
Wiese and Van Staden were both brilliant in their first home game for Leicester last weekend, as the Tigers beat Sale Sharks 19-11, but the only try of the match came courtesy of fellow South African Hanro Liebenberg.
Also formerly a Bulls player, Liebenberg signed with Leicester for the 2019/20 season, extended his contract and was awarded Player of the Season in 2020. The only non-Bok of the trio, Liebenberg is in fact the vice-Captain of this dominant Leicester side, and has consistently been one of the standout performers not only in the team, but in the tournament, over the past two seasons and current one. Liebenberg has been capped 42 times at Leicester and his style of play is characterised by powerful running and a great ability to link in the loose and around the centres, while still remaining a presence in close quarter play.
While Van Staden is a specialist openside flank, Wiese and Liebenberg are a bit more dispensable. Both of the latter’s preferred position is at eighthman, though Liebenberg has been used recently on the blindside. At 6ft6 and 110 Kilograms he is more than capable of bouncing between the two, as is the case with 6ft3, 110 Kilogram Wiese.
The success of these three players at Leicester is testament once again to the depth of quality loose forwards in South Africa, and the fact that sometimes looking abroad can be the best thing for a player, but it is also a huge positive for the Springbok national side. Neither Van Staden nor Wiese are regular Springbok starters, and Liebenberg has not been internationally capped (though he did represent and captain the South African u20 side). For these players to consistently be performing, but performing in a team that is winning and dominating an incredibly tough league, strengthens the Springbok succession plan at loose forward.
Not only is Duane Vermeulen playing out his final years, but loose forward is a highly attritional position, where one can never have too many quality players – the Rugby Championship and British & Irish Lions series being two tough reminders. For the sake of South African rugby, Van Staden, Wiese and Liebenberg; keep doing what you’re doing.
WATCH: Van Staden & Wiese’s highlights