New Bok Uzair has ‘unbelievable skills’

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But Uzair Cassiem won’t be one of them, promises someone who will know him better than most – Cheetahs forwards coach Corniel van Zyl.

Cassiem will make his Test debut against Wales after Willem Alberts failed to recover from a neck problem, while Jamba Ulengo and Rohan Janse van Rensburg are also in the starting team for the first time.

Loose forward Jean-Luc du Preez could make his Test bow off the bench.

Van Zyl believes that the 26-year-old Cassiem – who is originally from Strand in the Western Cape – can handle the big occasion.

Not only that, the Cheetahs No 7 has all the attributes of a modern-day loose forward to be successful against a combative Welsh loose trio of Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty, with powerful No 8 Taulupe Faletau on the bench.

“That’s outstanding news!” Van Zyl told Independent Media yesterday when informed of Cassiem’s selection. “When Uzair began with us here right at the beginning of the season, I had a chat with him and told him that he would be a Springbok on the end-of-year tour. I immediately saw that there is a lot of potential.

“Things didn’t happen as quickly as we wanted, but now at the end it has. So I am very happy and excited about that. He always contributes positively to our team and I am sure that he will show that at the Boks. I think he is a guy for the big moment, so I don’t feel that he will have to stand back for anything. I think he must just go out and ‘jol’!

“He is good on attack, he is good in the lineouts and in defence. He will be nice and fresh now because he hasn’t played for a while.”

Van Zyl travelled a similar journey in his playing career to Cassiem, having started out at the Pumas and then making his name as a lock at the Cheetahs. He moved on to Treviso and earned eight Test caps for Italy before retiring in 2015 to move back to Bloemfontein as an assistant coach to Franco Smith.

Having played in Europe, Van Zyl is confident that Cassiem can handle the big occasion on Saturday, where he will line-up alongside Nizaam Carr and Warren Whiteley in the Bok loose trio.

“I think Uzair is definitely a big-match player – no doubt about that. The other nice thing is Millennium Stadium… I can’t think of a better place, apart from South Africa, to make your Bok debut. There’s always an unbelievable atmosphere,” Van Zyl said.

“The third thing is that they will close the roof if it is raining, so it depends on how the pitch looks. It should be relatively dry, and it adds to the atmosphere.

“I think he has unbelievable skills. He is good on defence and attack, and he can make a pass or offload that few other people can do. He can see an opportunity that’s on, and he is a great team guy. You have to tick off all those attributes, as it won’t help if you play on your own. He combines well with his teammates, and he is good in the lineouts.

“He is a good combination of all three loose-forward positions. That makes him a good seven, and he can fill in at the other positions.”

Cassiem made his provincial breakthrough at the Pumas, having left the Western Cape after completing his schooling at Strand High. He played under Jimmy Stonehouse and MJ Mentz from 2012 to 2015, and moved to the Cheetahs this season.

“He was contracted at Griquas, and as part of his contract, he was automatically in the Cheetahs Super Rugby group. But then Griquas wasn’t part of our franchise anymore, and he continued training with us. That is where we quickly saw his potential, and you can see how good he is,” Van Zyl said.

“He was in the team every week, and there were very few times that he was on the bench, if at all, in Super Rugby and Currie Cup. So, he settled in well and that helped him a lot.”

Pumas chief executive Pieter Burger also expressed his happiness with Cassiem’s progress. “Uzair was here for a good few years, and we did try to keep him here. But unfortunately we are often the victims of our own success, as we don’t have that international platform for our players to be able to keep them here,” he said.

“From our side, we as the Pumas played a crucial role in the development of Uzair. We knew that he is a top-calibre player, with a lot of potential. We provided the platform for him to be exposed to provincial rugby, which eventually led to someone else realising that they really want to sign this guy.

“So we take great pride that he is one of our Springbok products, like Faf (de Klerk), Vincent (Koch), and other players in the SA A side like Francois Brummer. So we are very proud of Uzair and will always regard him as a Puma. We wish him well, and we know that he will go from strength to strength.”

ashfak.mohamed@inl.co.za

@ashfakmohamed

Independent Media

Original source: New Bok Uzair has ‘unbelievable skills’

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