Jacques Nienebar and Rassie Erasmus sprang a few surprises when naming the first Springbok since the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Springbok management team picked the entire Rugby World Cup-winning squad with the exceptions of the retired trio of Tendai Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits as well as the injured Warrick Gelant. While the exclusion of Marcell Coetzee certainly raised eyebrows, the inclusion of Montpellier utility forward Nico Janse van Rensburg is arguably the best selection call from the Springboks and highlights the value of Felix Jones in Europe.
The Springboks created a new role for Jones after the Rugby World Cup as he was tasked with monitoring the form of these overseas players and relaying valuable intel back to the SA Rugby HQ. The Irishman has certainly been busy since then with the Springboks naming 17 European-based players in the 47 man squad including recalls for the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen, the du Preez twins and Rynhardt Elstadt. Included in that list is Montpellier forward Nico Janse van Rensburg, who is one of eight uncapped players in the squad and one of three uncapped players based abroad.
The fitness concerns of Lood de Jager and RG Snyman have been well documented in the build to the Springbok squad announcement and the Lions Series and the inclusion of Janse van Rensburg goes a long way in easing those concerns.
The Springboks have never been short on options in the second row highlighted by the impact that the four locks had at the Rugby World Cup in Japan and the quality omitted in the 2021 squad. Stormers' locks JD Shickerling and Salmaan Moerat have been standouts for their franchise over the past year while Sharks' lock JJ van der Mescht has impressed in stints for the Durban-based outfit. Ruben van Heerden has been extremely consistent for the Sharks while Bulls youngster Ruan Nortje has been shining for the Pretoria based outfit in recent months.
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So with all the options at their disposal locally, why have the Springboks turned to the uncapped 27-year-old who joined Montpellier back in 2016?
Well with depth, comes the luxury of being in particular in selection. Janse van Rensburg offers the Springboks an option in both second-rower positions as well as an added option at blindside flank. He has featured regularly on the side of the scrum for Montpellier with the Challenge Cup winners opting for the hefty second-row options of Paul Willemse and Florian Verhaeghe.
A grafter around the pitch, Janse van Rensburg is also an excellent line out jumper and caller too. The Montpellier forward finished the regular TOP14 season with the third most lineout wins (72) behind fellow teammate Yacouba Camara (81) and Bayonne's Guillaume Ducat (75). He also managed to steal six lineouts in his 16 games and played three games less than Camara.
He also finished the season with a tackle completion of 89.4% and had a well rounded season averaging six carries and seven tackles per game.
What makes Janse van Rensburg selection call a savvy one is that he is able to fill a spot in the Springboks' bomb squad covering the second and back row while he also can act in similar roles to the likes of Lood de Jager and RG Snyman. A physical presence on either side of the ball, he could fill the enforcer role that Eben Etzebeth and RG Snyman perform in for the Boks, albeit at a lesser degree. His high work rate around the park and excellent work at the lineout means that could too provide cover for Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert if either of the pair is not fully fit.
Janse van Rensburg is a forward much like Pieter-Steph du Toit as he has all the attributes of a test second-rower with the pace to play on the side of the scrum. Du Toit starting role with the Springboks was uncontested during the 2019 Rugby World Cup and Janse van Rensburg's selection means that the World Player of the Year will now have two men competing for his position. Rynhardt Elstadt will provide similar cover and competition for positions in the squad but the Toulouse forward adds more grunt and graft than the lineout smarts that his Montpellier counterpart produces.
With the likes of RG Snyman and Lood de Jager in the race against time for the Lions Tour, Janse van Rensburg is a good shout to cover either of the two players. A skilful player, he could well push for a place in the 23.
Janse van Rensburg showed his quality in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Bath last month. Stationed at blindside for Montpellier against Bath, the former Springbok u20 star got through a mountain of work as the Premiership club dominated possession. He weighed in with 16 tackles, missing just one. He battered into the Bath defensive line making 8 carries resulting in just 15 metres. He did manage to beat two defenders and get an offload away. He also won five lineouts in total, two of which for Bath’s throw.
The value of Nico Janse van Rensburg's versatility is undeniable and his ability to back up the existing forwards in the squad makes him one of the best selection calls, especially if he backs up his selection by pushing for a spot in the matchday 23.