As much as there is cause for celebration following last night’s SA Rugby awards, I’m afraid I just cannot be still about the decision to award the Young Player of the Year to anyone other than Tendai Mtawarira.
The Young Player of the Year is awarded to the best player in the land who is 23 or younger (born in 1985). The nominees were Rob Ebersohn from Free State (who was declared the winner), Mtawarira, Ryan Kankowski (both from the Sharks), Free State’s Hein Brüssow and Province’s exciting young Nick Koster.
Looking at what the respective finalists have achieved, it is absolutely baffling that Ebersohn can have won. In fact, it is nothing less than a travesty that Beast didn’t win by a landslide. The likeable Zimbabwean, who only moved to the front row three years ago, started the season as the Sharks’ third choice prop. Grabbing his chance with both hands, he established himself as a key member of the front row when Deon Carstens was ruled out and made the position his own, his trademark bullocking runs and deadly all-over-the-park defence encouraging the crowd to chant his name in unison every time he did anything. Over the course of the season, he has allayed any doubts about his scrummaging acumen as well.
A superb Vodacom Super 14 series, in which he played every game for the Sharks, led to a Bok call-up in midyear. Beast quickly overtook the far more experienced Gurthrö Steenkamp in the national pecking order and has been the clear first-choice loosehead for the Springboks ever since the Tri-Nations. Nothing could sum up Beast’s season better than the absolutely heroic performance he put in against England last weekend, emerging with the second-highest tackle count of anyone in the team. And he’s a prop! Let’s not forget that, in addition to the 8 tests and 14 Super 14 games, Beast also played in almost every Currie Cup match for which he was available. The man is a legend and a machine and never gives less than his best.
Rob Ebersohn had a great Vodacom Cup and was a standout player for the SA Under 20 side this year. He is a rookie at Currie Cup level and although he enjoyed a promising debut season, to compare his exploits in a watered-down provincial competition to those of Mtawarira on the international stage just doesn’t make any sense. I fully endorse the awarding of the SA Under 20 Player of the Year to Ebersohn, but to pick him ahead of any of the others is quite frankly nonsensical.
Ryan Kankowski achieved more in the Super 14 alone than Ebersohn did the whole year. Even the other two candidates, Heinrich Brüssow and Nick Koster stood out more over the course of the Currie Cup season than Ebersohn did, with the former richly deserving his Springbok call-up for the end of year tour. The choice of Koster of Ebersohn is a subjective one, but on performance alone, there is no doubt that these are the two players who should have been vying for fourth spot in this particular competition.
Beast first, Kanko second and Brüssow third. Pick the other two in whatever order you like.
The only other award I can question is the seemingly bizarre decision to award Team of the Year to the Sharks Super 14 side. That one belongs to the Sharks Currie Cup team, in my opinion, since I have never seen a better example of teamwork than the display that took them from no-hopers after 6 weeks to champions after the final, stringing together an amazing 11-game unbeaten run in the process.Tweet