When I think of Juarno Augustus, I think of a wasted rugby talent. But I am not necessarily right because as a mate so eloquently put it to me earlier in the week, you think he should already have been a massive presence in professional rugby but maybe he doesn’t want to be it.
This mate, a hugely respected rugby analyst and authority, asked me if I had ever considered that Augustus, for whom it all came so easy as a schoolboy and junior player, didn’t ever want to be a professional rugby player.
‘You and I want him to wake up smelling blood and going out smashing people on match day but perhaps all he wants to do is be a painter … think about it,’ he said. ‘Don’t be too harsh on a talent seemingly unfulfilled. Be more accommodating that his goal is maybe not reflective of the traditional mindset that believes the best schoolboy should go onto become the best professional rugby player.’
It did make me pause for a minute. It did make me think and what changed from my initial thinking was to lament the loss of a talent to the Stormers and potentially Springbok rugby and not necessarily lambaste Augustus for cashing in his talent locally and then ironically cashing in on his talent with Northampton in England.
Augustus, named the best under 20 in the world in 2017, has just not delivered since his professional debut with Western Province and the Stormers. There have been occasional glimpses of the raw talent that dominated junior rugby in South Africa and led the way with tries in every one of his five matches for the SA under 20 team at the World Championships in Georgia in 2017.
Mostly, though, there has been disappointment, through injury, through struggles with match conditioning and through his career constantly being in limbo.
Stormers and WP coach John Dobson, on 24th August 2018, raved about the possibilities when he included Augustus in a loose-trio alongside Springboks Siya Kolisi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
Dobson described Augustus as a ‘physical beast’ and the moment that ‘he steps up to senior level properly now’.
‘Hopefully this year, touch wood, sees the proper unveiling of ‘Trokkie’. He is a big carrier and hitter. We have been working on his lineout skills and he is improving there, which is really exciting for his future.’
Dobson did say, ‘touch wood’.
But even that wishing of good fortune hasn’t helped.
Nearly three years later and Augustus hasn’t stepped up into the big time and now will continue his journey on the heavier fields of England’s Premiership.
Some would argue it is an ideal fit for a player who should thrive with the more physical but slower pace of the domestic game in England.
Many, who swear by his talent, tell me that a change of scenery is what will fast track the change in fortunes for the big loose-forward.
Augustus’s modesty and understated nature has always been consistent. He was born in the Northern Cape’s Alexander Bay and raised in the Western Cape, where he started playing rugby as a 12 year-old for Eerste Rivier club Whistling Wheels.
It all came very easy to him on the field. He was built like a truck and this truck only knew one way, which was forward.
This truck, in professional rugby, has not powered on.
It always seems to be at the workshop for repairs. Since 2017, the 116 kilograms 23 year-old Augustus has played just 19 times for the Stormers and 16 for Western Province.
When the news of his signing for Northampton Saints was confirmed, it felt bitter sweet. I was pleased for him because financially it secures his short-term future and it does give him a new place in which to transform his game.
But there was also that sense of disappointment that, locally, we never got to see the power wheels of this truck for Western Province and the Stormers.
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