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Bok’s indomitable forward power comes into focus in SA Player of the Year nominees list

Bok’s indomitable forward power comes into focus in SA Player of the Year nominees list
From left: Siya Kolisi (Photo: Christian Liewig - Corbis/Getty Images) | Eben Etzebeth (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images) | Frans Malherbe (Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images) | Damian Willemse (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images) | Pieter-Steph Du Toit (Photo: Paul Harding/Getty Images)

The Springboks twice selected 15 forwards in the match day 23 — both against the All Blacks before and during Rugby World Cup 2023 — and regularly opted for 14 forwards.

It’s a sign of the dominance of the Springbok forwards that four of the five players nominated for the prestigious South African Player of the Year, all play in the pack.

Tighthead prop Frans Malherbe, lock Eben Etzebeth, and flanks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi along with fullback Damian Willemse have all been nominated for the 2023 award.

The Springboks twice selected 15 forwards in the match day 23 — both against the All Blacks before and during Rugby World Cup 2023 — and regularly opted for 14 forwards.

It is likely to be one of the closest races in years as every one of those five players is deserving of the accolade. Others such as centre Jesse Kriel, whose immense work during the victorious Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign in France was unsung, wings Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse, flyhalves Manie Libbok and Handre Pollard and hooker Bongi Mbonambi are all unlucky not to be nominated.

Etzebeth was awarded the gong last year while Kolisi took it in 2021 and Du Toit won his third SA Player of the Year in 2019 — the same year he was named World Player of the Year as well.

All worthy

While the award generally rewards consistency of performances over the course of a year, Du Toit’s otherworldly performance in the RWC final against the All Blacks, which the Boks won 12-11, could be enough to tip the scales in his favour.

He was consistently good throughout the season and timed his best performances for the knockout stages in France, culminating in a man-of-the-match performance in the final. He made an astonishing 28 tackles, more than half of which were dominant hits, in the final.

Etzebeth was immense throughout the season and was also nominated for the 2023 World Player of the Year award, which ultimately went to New Zealand No 8 Ardie Savea.

Jacques Nienaber

Jacques Nienaber, Head Coach of the Springboks. (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Etzebeth delivered several superb performances at Test level, but his output in the epic 29-28 RWC quarterfinal win over France was stellar. He scored the match-defining try, dragging three French defenders over the line with him and stopped two probable tries with spectacular defence. That was in addition to his general workload.

Kolisi was immense as a leader, and fought his way back in less than four months from a partial cruciate ligament tear to lead the team in France.

His first game back against Wales after 16 weeks on the sidelines in a World Cup warm-up, was scarcely believable because it was so good.

Marauding runs, a deft offload for the first try of the match, and some stellar tackling, including when he tracked back more than 50m to take down Wales fullback Cai Evans, capped a fine 40 minutes for Kolisi. And he just continued to perform superbly from then on.

Malherbe is widely recognised as the best tighthead in the game in the most unglamorous, yet essential positions in the sport. Coaches understand his value and when you add in his exceptional workrate in the tight loose, where he makes a surprising number of tackles and cleans, he would be a worthy winner.

Willemse was consistent and occasionally brilliant for both the Stormers and the Boks. This was the season he came to full bloom with a rounded, mature game that still included the moments of brilliance and the touches of genius, which included his now iconic ‘two fists’ signal to call for a scrum after marking the ball against France. It signalled both his and his team’s complete confidence in their ability and their approach.

Nadine Roos

Nadine Roos of South Africa. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Other categories

Nadine Roos will also defend her title as Springbok Women’s Player of the Year, against former winners Aseza Hele and Babalwa Latsha, as well as Libbie Janse van Rensburg and Rights Mkhari.

Four of the five nominees for the Young Player of the Year Award were also on the shortlist last year. Canan Moodie won in 2022 and this year he will again be hoping to beat off the challenges of Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Jaden Hendrikse and Evan Roos. Ruan Venter has also been nominated.

Ricardo Duarttee, who was named Rookie of the Year Award at the annual HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Awards, is up against Christie Grobbelaar and Shilton van Wyk for the Springbok Sevens Men’s Player of the Year Award.

And the three nominees for the Junior Springbok Player of the Year Award are team captain Paul de Villiers, who led the SA U20s to a bronze medal at the World Rugby U20 Championship, as well as Corne Beets and Damian Markus.

Canan Moodie, Player of the Year

Canan Moodie of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2023 against Tonga at Stade Velodrome on 1 October 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The categories for Coach and Team of the Year are straight shootouts between Jacques Nienaber and the Springboks, John Dobson and the Stormers, and Hawies Fourie and the Cheetahs, who won the 2023 Currie Cup.

“We had a wonderful year culminating in the Rugby World Cup victory, and I would like to congratulate all the nominees not only for their performances during the year, but also for their contribution to the local rugby landscape,” SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said in a statement.

“All the names on the list of nominees can look back at the year and be proud of their performances. Rugby is a team game, and I’m sure all of them will agree that nothing is possible without the player next to you, but they stood out and deserve these nominations.

“All of our national teams were in action this year, with varying degrees of success, but every single player put their country first whenever and wherever they took the field, and I would like to thank them for that.

“A special word of thanks and congratulations to Jacques, Siya and the Springboks though — you were great ambassadors for South Africa and by defending the Webb Ellis Cup in France, you have ensured that the name of the Bok team of 2023 will forever be written in the annals of our game as one of the greatest.” DM

The nominees are (in alphabetical order):

 

SA Rugby Men’s Player of the Year

Pieter-Steph du Toit

Eben Etzebeth

Siya Kolisi

Frans Malherbe

Damian Willemse

Springbok Women’s Player of the Year

Aseza Hele

Libbie Janse van Rensburg

Babalwa Latsha

Rights Mkhari

Nadine Roos

SA Rugby Young Player of the Year

Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers)

Jaden Hendrikse (Springboks / Sharks)

Canan Moodie (Springboks / Bulls)

Evan Roos (Springboks /Stormers)

Ruan Venter (Lions)

Springbok Sevens Men’s Player of the Year

Ricardo Duarttee

Christie Grobbelaar

Shilton van Wyk

Junior Springbok Player of the Year

Corne Beets

Paul de Villiers

Damian Markus

Team of the Year

Cheetahs (Currie Cup)

Springboks

Stormers (URC)

Coach of the Year

John Dobson (Stormers)

Hawies Fourie (Cheetahs)

Jacques Nienaber (Springboks)

Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year

Tinus de Beer (Pumas)

Ruan Pienaar (Cheetahs)

Devon Williams (Pumas)

Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year

Keagan Fortune (Valke)

Darian Hock (Boland Kavaliers)

Cameron Hufke (Boland Kavaliers)

Gallery

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