The next young gun
Who will be South African rugby’s next young gun to emulate the likes of Lood de Jager when the 2016 Varsity Cup kicks off tomorrow evening? That will be the question occupying the minds of provincial coaches as they run the rule over the cream of the country’s student talent.
Early in the 2012 season, big Lodewyk de Jager was playing for North-West University’s Under-20s in the Varsity Cup Young Guns competition.
Two years later, on June 14 2014, he made his debut (off the bench) for the Springboks against Wales in Durban at the age of 21.
The lanky youngster with the baby face was spotted in the minor competition by then Free State Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské and offered a chance in the big leagues.
Even though De Jager had seemingly been overlooked by his age-group coaches, Drotské spotted his height, weight, work rate and palpable joy at getting involved in the rough and tumble – and his gut feel was soon rewarded.
Fellow Bok lock Eben Etzebeth made a similar step up by turning out for the University of Cape Town (UCT) Ikeys, as did Damian de Allende. Oupa Mohojé grabbed his chance with the Free State Shimlas.
Josh Strauss went from Maties to captaining the Lions to a Currie Cup victory and then went on to being capped for Scotland. A number of other Springboks have seen student action.
The brainchild of former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, the Varsity Cup and its subsidiary competitions, the Varsity Shield, the Young Guns and Koshuis, have been a huge success; the matches slot in on Monday nights and provide players who might have slipped through the net with a chance to excel.
In tomorrow night’s main game, 2014 winners Ikeys will take on defending champions Shimlas at UCT’s Green Mile.