Whispers of greatness will become more audible after the IRB named Sharks flanker Keegan Daniel as a nominee for the U21 Player of the Year.
Rugby’s governing body announced the shortlist for the award which also included Lionel Beauxis of France and Digby Ioane of Australia.
If he wins at the ceremony to be held in Glasgow on November 26, he’ll emulate the former Vodacom Western Province prop, Pat Barnard, who won the award in 2002.
Daniel starred in the unsuccessful Baby Boks title defence at the U21 World Championships in France earlier this year, and was named as the Player of the Tournament.
The youngster’s performances were lauded by the local and international media and he made enough of an impression on the management of the teams at the tournament to secure their votes for a nomination for the prestigious award.
Daniel though is adamant that the award is as much a result of a collective as it is an individual one.
“It’s a great honour to be nominated for such a prestigious award,” he told Keo.co.za. “But I’ve always maintained that I am only one part of a whole team.
“No player goes out onto the field thinking: ‘I have to win this award or that award’, and I’m no different.
“So when I shine it’s because the team allows me to do that and not because of my individual effort.”
The Sharks academy is renowned for it’s ability to produce players of the highest calibre and Daniel credits his progression from relative obscurity to Super 14 and provincial prominence to the institution.
“This has definitely been my breakthrough season and I think I have achieved a lot very quickly.
“Two years ago nobody had even heard of me but I have the Academy to thank for the big improvement in my game. The coaches there like Balie Swart, Roelof Kotzer and Swys de Bruin are amazing,” he said.
With awards like these comes the inevitable and largely premature calls for Springbok selection. And while we’ve become accustomed to the standard ‘I’ll wait for my opportunity’ response from players, Daniel offers us a refreshingly frank response to the Bok selection question.
“I’ll definitely take the opportunity to play for the Boks now if it presented itself,” he said enthusiastically. “I believe that if a player is good enough then their is no reason why he shouldn’t be selected.
“I would grab an opportunity like that with both hands.”
Dick Muir’s preference for the Britz-Botes-Venter loose trio has stifled Daniel’s Absa Currie Cup appearances this season and when limited opportunity meets a driving ambition like Daniel’s, frustration is the only result.
“I’m not a bench player,” he says before qualifying the statement. “I mean that I’m a terrible substitute in the sense that I always want to be involved and play a part of the team’s success.
“It would’ve been even more frustrating If we were on a losing streak but the fact that we are doing really well helps a bit.”
The current crop of young guns at the Sharks have been touted for a huge future in the game. Of the 52 players on Currie Cup contracts, 30 are 25-years-old or younger.
“We’ve got some exciting times coming up at the Sharks. And even though we’ve got so much quality young players coming through, we’ve got a great base of experienced players.”
The Sharks face a potentially decisive three week period in their season, and the young team’s ability to handle the pressure has been questioned. But Daniel rejects the notion that their youthfulness will be a liability in their bid to win the title.
“We’ve got guys like Warren Britz here who will help anyone who might to be struggling to handle the pressure.
“The guys with the Springboks will be back soon as well, so you can bet that we won’t crack.
“We’ve got a feeling that this is going to be our season.”
The IRB also announced the nominees in two other categories. South African Stefan Basson was nominated for the award of Sevens player of the year along with England’s Matthew Tait and Samoa’s Uale Mai. In the U19 Player of the Year category the Australian duo of Josh Holmes and Anthony Faingaa as well as New Zealands Victor Vito were the nominees.
By Ryan Vrede