Springboks: Kurt-Lee Arendse rockets to stardom with record equalling run

Jared Wright
Kurt-Lee Arendse evades the tackle of Marcus Smith

Kurt-Lee Arendse rocketed to stardom with his incredible try against England in the Springboks’ final match of the Autumn Nations Series, but that was just the cherry on top of his breakthrough year.

Throwback to 2020, and few would have known too much about the new Bulls signing unless they were keen admirers of the South African sevens team.

With the World Sevens Series canned due to the pandemic, Arendse was handed a lifeline by the Bulls and joined Jake White’s squad that would go on to win the Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup that year.

He played a pivotal role in both tournaments, scoring two tries in each competition, but when the United Rugby Championship kicked off, he really started to stand out.

The fleet-footed pocket rocket ran in seven tries in 14 matches last season and has scored twice in four games this term.

Still, when the maiden Springboks‘ squad of the year was announced, there were questions about his inclusion, particularly when considering the form of then-teammate Madosh Tambwe. 

Taking his chance

While many didn’t take note of Arendse‘s rise at the Bulls, his performance did not fly under the radar of the Springboks’ selectors. 

He made his Test debut in the second game against Wales, making a notable impact on defence where he chopped down Taulupe Faletau and Alex Cuthbert with extreme efficiency.

It did not take long for him to earn another opportunity after Cheslin Kolbe fractured his jaw in the series-deciding Test match a week later. When the All Blacks arrived in the Republic, Arendse filled Kolbe’s vacancy on the right wing. 

A whirlwind first Test against the old rivals saw Arendse follow in the footsteps of Kolbe, running in his first Test try against the All Blacks, but what followed would temporarily put his international career on hold. 

He was handed a four-week suspension and copped an injury that would have ruled him out of those matches, as he collided with Beauden Barrett in the air and red carded for his actions. 

A red card can often spell the end of a Test career, and one on debut could make a player a one-Test wonder, not Arendse.

Second chance

With South Africa needing a big win over Argentina to win the Rugby Championship, Arendse was rushed back into the squad and added to the bench to bring his pace and attacking prowess in the latter stages of the Test; and that is precisely what he did.

He put the finishing touches on the win over Los Pumas, rounding out a neat attack down the short side where he linked up with fellow rising star Canan Moodie, scoring his second try in his third Test match.

His impact certainly made the coaches take note and vindicated their decision to recall him into the squad, and by the time November rolled around, he had cemented himself in the wider team.

During November, Arendse continued to make the most of his second shot in the squad and earned a starting role in the crunch battle against Ireland in Dublin, another Test to see if he would sink or swim.

Yet again, he rose to the occasion, scoring his third try in his third successive Test match and would go on to do the same against France, dotted down twice against Italy and added another against England.

Record equalling run

Arendse’s seven tries in seven Test matches in 2022 saw him join an elite group of Springboks. 

Before the speedster shot to stardom this year, only the great Danie Gerber and the late Chester Williams had scored in six consecutive Test matches for South Africa.

Gerber achieved the feat between 1982 and 1984, dotting down ten times over six Tests against South America and England. He grabbed hat-tricks against both sides. 

Williams also scored ten tries in six consecutive Tests, dotting down twice in back-to-back games against Argentina with further tries against Scotland and Wales in 1994. Before the 1995 Rugby World Cup, he ran in two tries against Samoa before doubling his tally in the pool stages against the same opposition.

While the Springbok legends scored three tries more than Arendse, the former Blitzboks’ achievement is just as impressive, having scored against six different opposition. 

Willie Le Roux’s impact

Willie Le Roux has a knack for getting the best out of fresh talents out wide for the Springboks; he assisted Makazole Mapimpi’s first Test try and had a hand in all but two of Arendse’s seven tries to date.

The veteran playmaker smartly kept the ball alive by offloading off the deck to Eben Etzebeth in the build-up to Arendse’s try against Ireland. From there, the abrasive second-rower charged into three defenders before freeing up his hands and providing the assist to Arendse, who had an easy run in.

Against France, Le Roux directly assisted the try with a pin-point miss pass after spotting the slightest opportunity for Arendse to sneak in, in the corner.

His skip passes against Italy saw Arendse grab two further tries, the first gave him enough time to evade the clutches of Juan Brex, and the second freed Siya Kolisi up to provide the assist.

Finally, he sent the young flyer into space with a perfectly timed pass that created a one-on-one with Marcus Smith; we all know by now how that ended.

Defensive smarts

Anyone who has watched the Springboks since Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber took over will know that the wingers play a significant role in attack and defence. 

On attack, they are required to snap up the slightest opportunity to score and be great chasers of the high ball to apply pressure on the opposition. A trait Arendse highlighted when scoring his first Test try as his efforts in the air saw the ball spilt loose for Lukhanyo Am to pounce on and provide the assist.

More importantly, on defence, they must shoot out of the defensive line and snuff out any threatening attacks. Koble, in particular, has become a master of this, and Arendse is following in his footsteps. 

He stepped up in this regard, making a brilliant defensive read against England where he shot up on Owen Farrell, making him think that he had been drawn into making a tackle before quickly adjusting and making a swift leg tackle on Freddie Steward.

Pushing the World Cup Winners

Until now, there seemed to be little to no competition for the starting winger roles behind the 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning duo of Mapimpi and Kolbe. 

However, the form of the new hero, nicknamed ‘Finnish and Klaar’ (referencing the South African saying meaning over and done with), will have Kolbe and Mapimpi nervously looking over their shoulders.

The 26-year-old has seemingly made himself undroppable in a position that is not his yet, and only time will tell if he can retain either the 11 or 14 jerseys. 

His ability to play full-back makes him a strong contender for South Africa’s Rugby World Cup squad next year. 

READ MORE: State of the Nation: Improved Springboks can offer a meaningful World Cup defence in France