JOHANNESBURG – Head coach Ivan van Rooyen admitted that he was positively beaming after it was announced that Lions centre Wandisile Simelane had been honoured with the SA Rugby Young Player of the Year award on Thursday morning.
Simelane had a stellar season during the recently concluded SuperRugby Unlocked and Currie Cup campaigns for the Lions, the 22-year-old setting tongues-a-wagging with his exciting and irrepressible play in the midfield for the Joburg-based side. It was a sentiment shared by Van Rooyen, who speaking to Independent Media on Thursday, expressed his jubilation at the achievement of the former Baby Bok.
Said Van Rooyen: “We are delighted with that. It is always nice when individuals or teams get acknowledged, especially when it is from your franchise or union.
“Knowing how hard he had to work to get where he is today,” the coach continued, “everyone always knew that he had the talent but the last year, year-and-a-half, in terms of his development, was crucial to that.
“He wasn’t necessarily the first choice at the beginning of last year, but we really went through a good process with him of good honesty: where he is, what he needs to work on, and him understanding actually what his potential is, and then him getting closer to that.
“It is a big reward for him. I am really happy for him and may it long continue.”
Simelane stepped his way into the rugby public’s consciousness this past season with powerful and bewitching displays, showing his X-factor on several occasions as he eviscerated opposition defences. In October last year, he was selected to participate in the Springbok Showdown, and with his most recent performances, there is genuine talk that he will don the Green and Gold of the national team sooner, rather than later.
— Springboks (@Springboks) March 4, 2021
Simelane, along with his teammates, is currently hard at work preparing for the upcoming season. The Lions are scheduled to play against the Eastern Province on Wednesday in the second of their preparation matches but Simelane is not expected to make an appearance during the encounter as Van Rooyen continues to work on the squad depth for the European-orientated Rainbow Cup by selecting players from the union’s youth structures.
It is more likely that the newly confirmed Young Player of the Year will run out against the Sharks and the Stormers later this month as the Lions complete their training regime for the new season ahead.