Rassie Erasmus knows he is taking a lot of criticism for his decision to try Nick Koster on the wing, so he should be pleased to know that he has received unqualified support from a leading figure who knows Koster’s game better than most.
Gavin Rich writes for SuperRugby that it was current Italy coach Nick Mallett who first contracted loose-forward Koster to Western Province when he was still only 16, and the former Springbok coach is convinced that Erasmus is doing the right thing by giving Koster a chance to play at the back.
Koster, who made his debut for WP last year as a loose-forward reserve, is marked down as a wing reserve for Sunday’s Super 14 warm-up match against Saracens.
“I have a lot of admiration and respect for what Rassie is doing, moving Nick to the back at this stage of his career makes a lot of sense,” said Malett.
“I can’t see how he will suffer for it. There is a lot of loose-forward talent at the Stormers, and Nick is still young, but he really is too great a talent to be left out of the side. He has all the skills to be a real success at the back. His ball skills are outstanding, but he also has great pace. At school he was a great athlete in his own right, competing with the best in the sprint events. He also has kicking skills that exceed those of many backline players.”
Mallett said that at the time Koster was contracted, he believed he would make a great centre (Koster played centre against Mallett’s son, Doug, while at school).
“Apart from his ball handling skills, he has great line-breaking abilities. When you have a player of Nick’s ability available, you don’t want to leave him out. In my day someone like Carel du Plessis made his debut on the wing at the age of 20. That was a position where you could blood a player of that age.
“That does not mean Koster will stay on the wing forever. By getting a chance to play Super 14 rugby on the wing, even if it is not the position he is used to, he can only learn from the experience. It is certainly a lot easier to pick him there at the age of 19 or 20 than it will be later on in his career.”
Mallett’s line is in tune with Erasmus’s thinking. The Stormers coach believes that Koster still has some developing to do physically before he can be ready to play loose-forward in the Super 14.
“When I was at the Cheetahs I blooded guys like Duane Vermeulen and Heinrich Brussow as 19-year-olds and I saw how they struggled. They are good players now, and maybe it helped them, but we have some strong loose-forwards at the Stormers, and playing Nick there now might be an unnecessary risk,” said Erasmus.
“During the pre-season training there was one stage when I had a look at the guys who were lined up on the side injured, and they were all under-21 players. It is a fact that while a player’s body is still developing, you put him at greater risk. That is why I don’t want to play Nick at centre at this stage, because that is also quite a physical position.
“I am not saying Nick will always play wing, or that the switch is permanent. I just think that letting him get some experience in the Super 14 in another position makes more sense than sending him to Sevens, which is a totally different game. If he plays wing for us, he can still do the things a loose-forward does. He is big and he is quick, and he should not have to stand back physically for any other wing in the competition.”Tweet