Durban – Springbok rugby players are seldom accused of giving less than their best but if there is going to be one player giving 150 percent on Saturday against Wales it will be No 8 Jasper Wiese.
As if Wiese needed any reminding, the media conference he fronted yesterday was almost exclusively focused on the stellar quality of the Young Turks breathing down his neck in Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw, both of whom bashed down the selection door of coach Jacques Nienaber.
With the real incumbent No 8, Duane Vermeulen injured, there was conjecture about who would replace him between Louw, Roos, Wiese, and Kwagga Smith, the almost forgotten contender for the jersey who wore it a few times last year.
But the wise know that Nienaber (and Rassie Erasmus) select conservatively and back those already in their system, and thus Wiese was always going to get the early shot after earning all of his 11 caps last year, and most of them at No 8 when Vermuelen was nursing a different injury.
Wiese, the incredibly humble Afrikaner from Upington, handled the barrage of questions about his competition for the jersey with dignity.
“Obviously you want to put your name on that jersey and make it your own but with the quality we have at the moment, it is very difficult. Kwagga, Evan, Elrigh… they all very good players as you have seen across all of the competitions,” the 26-year-old said.
“If you watched the URC, Evan and Elrigh were consistently excellent. The quality we have in the Bok squad, especially in the loose forward department, is so high that if you don’t perform someone will take your spot.
“You can’t for one minute lay back and think you are comfortable in your position — you have to keep working harder than ever or else you will be overtaken.”
When Roos was busy earning the accolade of Player of the URC, with Roos breathing down his neck, Wiese, watched from England where he has been playing for Leicester, and knew he had to shine up or he would be shipped out.
“Looking at social media I could see all the excitement in South Africa over these guys,” he said. “And they deserve all the praise they got. They have had brilliant seasons. Watching afar, I knew I had to step up my game because of the talent coming through. Obviously, Evan and Elrigh are also hungry to play for more than just their provincial teams. They are both excellent, excellent players…
“It is healthy to have guys on your tail but ultimately you are not playing for yourself, you are playing for your country, you are playing for something much bigger. It is very important to remember that you are not the most important thing and that the team comes first.”
Wise indeed stepped up his game and had a blistering season for Leicester culminating in him winning the Man of the Match award in the English Premiership when his team beat Saracens 15-12.
Wiese was also very good last year in his debut season for Leicester but he says he took his game up a level this year after being given a hammering by coach Steve Borthwick because of his poor discipline — as well as he was playing, he was often over-exuberant in his tacking and suffered a succession of yellow and red cards.
Wiese says Borthwick told him the team could not afford to keep playing matches down to 14 men.
“There were some stern words from the coach and it had the desired effect admitted Wise, who has now gone 17 matches without a card.