Rosko Specman will become a Springbok when South Africa play Georgia this Friday for their first test since the Rugby World Cup final. Specman is a special player, but even more special is his selection, in the context of South African rugby, writes Oliver Keohane.
Cheslin Kolbe is the best backline player in the world at the moment, but he isn’t available to face Georgia this weekend. Obvious replacement, Sbu Nkosi, went down earlier in the week with Covid. Rosko Specman has been announced as the next number 14, and will make his Springbok debut at age 32. It is an other step in the right direction for a rugby nation historically obsessed with size, it is another victory for world rugby and the small guy in marking more movement towards acknowledging the many values that characterise a quality player, outside of his stature.
Cheslin Kolbe flipped the South African narrative around size. He was encouraged to play at nine, glanced over come Springbok selection time and told to play sevens. A couple of years later many South Africans regard him as the most valuable player in the Springbok set up, and not as a scrumhalf. Toulouse fans most definitely do, and last weekend he blew minds again in kicking a 50m drop goal (his first ever drop goal) to help Toulouse to Top 14 glory over La Rochelle.
In the absence of Kolbe, a like-for-like pick was the best option after the unique skillset of Sbu Nkosi was ruled out. It is a positive for rugby progression, as well our game-plan, that the Bok coaches have backed the skill, step and rugby brain of Rosko Specman over a brawnier, “safer” option.
Specman has been an outstanding servant of South African Sevens, scoring 380 points in 150 appearances between 2014-2018, and at the Bulls, Cheetahs and now Stormers has now thrived in the 15 man game, bringing flare and finesse to the wing and changing up the traditional dynamic of South African wing play. Though this has not been at the expense of the basics, with Specman’s speed, swerve and eye for a gap complimenting a well rounded basic rugby skillset.
With other Springbok debutant Aphele Fassi tearing down the left wing, and Jesse Kriel starting at outside centre, the Springboks will bring a lot of speed to their clash against Georgia, with the luxury of Willie Le Roux’s experience settling things from the back.
Specman’s story is special in that he left behind a game in which he was so comfortable and dominant to pursue a position in the 15 man format. He challenged a narrative around size that has been upheld for a long time among South African coaches and South African rugby in general, and in making the starting Springbok side, he succeeded in his efforts. Kudos to Specman for a sensational transition, and kudos to South African rugby for continuing to move in the right direction.
Watch: Specman’s skills and steps