Slaptjips junior slips quietly on to centre stage

While Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel were pocketing plaudits and man-of-the match awards for the Golden Lions earlier this season, Harold Vorster slipped quietly into the backline. In this way, he behaved as all good centres should. He’s unobtrusive and easy on the eye, but he’s not so anonymous that he doesn’t raise a gentle eyebrow or make a quietly favourable impression.

Initially coach Johan Ackermann seemed undecided about where to play him – at outside or inside centre – but the youngster didn’t seem fazed either way; it was just good to be getting a run in Super Rugby.

“It took me maybe three or four matches to get the feel and pace of the game and get used to it,” he said. “After that it became a little bit easier, although you don’t want to relax when you find that your place isn’t properly cemented.”

The Currie Cup starts next weekend, with the Lions travelling to Port Elizabeth for a match against the EP Kings, an environment Vorster is likely to find conducive. World Cup themes are set to dominate in the coming months so it’s the ideal stage on which to refine his lines. With matches against the Pumas (home and away) and the Sharks to follow, Vorster can grow and blossom – and do so far away from prying eyes.

He says the Lions are generally a great bunch of guys and they have taken a goeie gees (good spirit) and growing confidence into the next stage of their development. Indeed, the Currie Cup has almost become invisible in recent seasons, it is so overshadowed by other things. Then suddenly September winds round and the wise-ass constituency on Twitter start to realise how central the competition is to this country’s rugby life.

The Lions and Vorster will, in all likelihood, be there come the business end of the competition. They are less likely to be troubled by World Cup squad losses than the coastal unions and will therefore be able to preserve relative continuity. Give or take a point or two (remember the draw against the Stormers towards the end of the Super Rugby season?) it could have been them and not Allister Coetzee’s men in the play-offs, of which they are only too aware.

Really a Bull rather than a Lion
Hailing from Phalaborwa, and a product of local primary and high schools, Vorster is really a Bull rather than a Lion. But it was to the Lions he gravitated, serving an apprenticeship in coming through the junior ranks at the union before being drafted into the Super Rugby side half-way through the championship. Long-legged and coltish, there is something almost old-fashioned about him. Closer to home, he reminds one a little of Pieter Rossouw, the rangy, elusive winger who was at his best under Nick Mallett in the late 1990s.

Whether Vorster becomes another “Slaptjips” remains to be seen, but the building blocks are there. He’s tall, fearless, and has a canny eye for a gap. With only the Bulls’ Burger Odendaal and perhaps the Kings’ Shane Gates catching the attention as other young centres to watch, Vorster can spend the rest of the year rounding off his game and enhancing his reputation.

“I like to eat right, get enough sleep and persevere when things aren’t perhaps going so well,” he says. “The last thing you want to be doing is getting a big head. Continuing to work hard is important.”

For all the optimism floating about Airlines Emirates Park (as Ellis Park is now called), the Lions need to start converting the empty coin of promise into the hard currency of silverware. The Currie Cup campaign gives them an opportunity to do just this.

In last year’s final, you’ll remember, the Lions underestimated the wind at Newlands, Marnitz Boshoff’s kicking game was slightly off-kilter and the visitors lost by three. October is some way off, admittedly, but Vorster and the Lions wouldn’t be human if they didn’t have at least half an eye on the trophy.

They’re South Africa’s form side this season and, although their forwards have been immense, there’s also been a certain sparkle out wide.

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