Joe van Niekerk has some sage words on the management of the Stormers’ emerging star Nick Koster.
Koster impressed with limited game time in his rookie season with the Stormers and Western Province, and is now poised to play a more significant role in the Stormers’ 2009 Super 14 campaign.
The 19-year-old loose forward has been tipped for stardom, and has a string of respected critics, including World Cup-winning Springbok coach, Jake White, who selected him in his Barbarians squad for their match against Australia in December.
Van Niekerk can identify with the scrutiny Koster will come under in the forthcoming season. He too was deemed a teenage prodigy, and was considered talented enough to play at Test level as a 21-year-old. This before he had competed at Currie Cup or Super Rugby level.
However, the exposure to and effects of the physicality of Test rugby on a body that was yet to complete its development would have an adverse effect on Van Niekerk, with his career subsequently punctuated by a series of serious injuries.
Van Niekerk has overcome that difficult period, and when he captains his French Top 14 club Toulon against Mont de Marsan this weekend, it will be his 30th consecutive match – the most his ever played at senior level without injury.
He believes there are lessons to be learned from his misfortune, particularly for Koster, whose all-action style has been likened to a young Van Niekerk.
“The boy has a helluva lot of talent and he has a bright future, there’s no doubt about that. Just a superb talent,” Van Niekerk told keo.co.za from his home in Carqueiranne, Toulon.
“He is at the level where he could easily make a Springbok side, but the key is not to push him too fast. I was pushed through at a young age, and while I loved every moment of that early period, there’s no doubt that physically I may not have been quite ready for the demands Test rugby puts on a forward. It probably had a lot to do with the recurring injuries I suffered throughout my career.
“But Rassie [Erasmus - Stormers coach] is an astute man-manager and I’m sure he’ll manage him properly. If not, I’d worry about the longevity of the player. He’s one of the best of the emerging group of wonderfully talented loose forwards, and it would be a shame if his career was blighted by injury.”
There has been speculation that the Stormers are considering utilising Koster at wing. He ran in the position at Stormers’ training sessions last week and Erasmus is reported to believe that he has the size, pace and handling skills to hold his own in the position. Van Niekerk, however, fails to see the sense in this positional shift, should it materialise.
“If those reports are accurate, I don’t know why they would tinker with his position,” Van Niekerk said. “You can see he’s wired to play in the loose forwards by the way he reads the play and the positions he assumes.
“He’s big and quick enough to be very effective in the loosies and would be a bit of a waste on the wing. You want him in positions where he gets his hands on the ball as often as possible. That won’t be the case on the wing. The boy needs to be close to the action because he is something special.”
By Ryan Vrede