Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Look no further than Warrick Gelant?
That is a thought likely to have been right near the front of Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’s mind after Saturday’s surprisingly one-sided Bulls triumph in a Super Rugby derby against the Sharks in rain-lashed Durban.
Visiting fullback Gelant was a pretty obvious choice for player of the match, showing a series of deft, influential touches despite the slippery conditions at Kings Park and being rewarded with a sparkling hat-trick of tries in the 40-10 romp that will only increase a sense of unease among the Sharks faithful as their team flirts with premature disappearance into 2018 also-ran status.
Two of the twinkle-toed customer’s touch-downs came in the pivotal first eight minutes, helping the highly motivated and cohesive Bulls open up a 14-3 lead against opponents who had not long earlier flown back long-haul from a four-match Australasian programme – call it an early passion-killer for them.
From that point, it seemed a tall order under the circumstances for the cumbersome, impatient Sharks to strike back for a victory against foes who, by contrast, were coming off a rejuvenating bye.
Gelant’s early prosperity in the try column reminded of Madosh Tambwe’s fairy-tale start to the Lions’ victory over the Stormers a week earlier, when he notched a sensational three well inside the first 15 minutes.
In this case, the Knysna-born No 15 had to wait until the 78th minute to complete his own hat-trick, but it was no less deserved … and underlined his X-factor on the front foot.
The first was a follow-up run to Handre Pollard’s finely-weighted little dink over the top, the second involved a clever lead-up grubber of his own, and the late-show third came after he had pierced open the increasingly demoralised Sharks defence with a burst of speed and power out of the blocks.
Into the bargain, the 22-year-old – looking increasingly sharp again after an early-season spell on the sidelines with a knee problem – performed his defensive tasks assuredly and robustly, in line with so many colleagues on an impressive evening for the Bulls as a disciplined and cerebral group.
It is not out of the question that Erasmus will look at the versatile claims of overseas-based, seasoned international stars like Frans Steyn or Pat Lambie for the Bok fullback berth during the June Test period, but if he is going to favour a home-based player then Gelant is currently sticking his hand up high.
Certainly in this fixture he outplayed another youthful talent in Curwin Bosch at fifteen, even if the 20-year-old Sharks player didn’t disgrace in the humbling: his amazing, hanging kick-offs remain a very useful device, among other attributes.
Bear in mind that in the fading months of the Allister Coetzee regime as Bok coach, he stuck rather doggedly to Andries Coetzee at fullback and the Lions representative seldom went beyond industrious … sometimes at very best.
Gelant does boast one prior start for his country, but it came out of position at wing in the merciful 2017 season-closer against Wales in Cardiff, when the Springboks lost 24-22 to near second-string opponents.
He produced some decent moments with his elusiveness on that occasion, but was also exposed in positional terms a few times, and would clearly far prefer another stab in green and gold from his more customary slot this year.
In a game which saw the Bulls leapfrog the Sharks into second position in the SA conference behind the still comfortably-leading Lions – gap 11 points, though the Pretoria side have a match in hand – a handful of John Mitchell’s other charges beefed up their Test claims.
These included the demonically busy lock pairing of Lood de Jager (another plethora of tackles) and RG Snyman, front-ranker Trevor Nyakane, who showed off handling skills to match his grunt, and incumbent SA pivot Pollard, who again showed tactical aplomb and bossing hallmarks in the prevailing conditions.
It is becoming more and more of a shame, too, that veteran hooker Adriaan Strauss is no longer available for the Springboks, even if only as a back-up to Malcolm Marx; he is playing with the zest of someone 10 years shy of his actual 32 years …
Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday: Blues v Highlanders, 09:35; Waratahs v Lions, 11:45. Saturday: Crusaders v Sunwolves, 09:35; Reds v Chiefs, 11:45; Bulls v Rebels, 15:05; Sharks v Stormers, 17:15. Sunday: Brumbies v Jaguares, 08:05. Bye: Hurricanes.
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