Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus admits he doesn’t encourage “ranking” players but for Makazole Mapimpi he’s willing to make an exception.
The 27-year-old Sharks flyer has been handed a chance to stake his claim at international level after being included in the starting line-up for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Durban.
Injury to Mapimpi’s franchise teammate S’bu Nkosi undoubtedly helped his cause but Erasmus doesn’t base his decision solely on that.
“He’ll be the first guy to put up his hand and admit that there were certain technical areas where he struggled like the high ball and certain defensive systems,” said the national mentor on Thursday.
“But hell I must say, if I must rank players in the 35-man squad who have improved the most Makazole is undoubtedly No 1.”
Mapimpi’s rise since starring for the Southern Kings in last year’s Super Rugby tournament has been rapid, with his ability to score tries in different environments being particularly notable.
For example, he took Europe by storm in the Pro14 during his short stint with the Cheetahs, dotting down 10 times in just 13 matches.
However, Mapimpi has been required to add more strings to his bow, a process he’s been coping well with.
“His such a hard worker. He’s always fit and he’s always available and ready for the call of duty. If there were certain aspects of his game that were a 3 or a 4 out of 10, they’re now closer to 8 or 9. Add that to his already fine attacking game and it’s wonderful to give him this opportunity.”
The Springboks though don’t want him to suddenly hide his natural attacking flair.
In fact, Erasmus still encourages it.
“We know what he brings to the table. He scores tries and he’s got tremendous X-factor with the ball in hand.”