Magnificently mercurial: Russell sidesteps tradition, takes the gap

02 June 2002
Brent Russell, former FNB UCT Rugby Club First XV flyhalf, is one of eight uncapped players named as part of Rudolf Straeuli's 22-man 'Bok squad. Described by the press variously as "mercurial", "gifted" and "sparkling", Russell set the trials alight on May 19 and has beaten a somewhat unusual path into the squad via Sevens rugby.

FORMER UCT student Brent Russell (22) has sidestepped the traditional breeding ground for Springboks, the Super 12, and taken the gap.

The mercurial fly half, who played for the UCT First XV last year, was named as one of eight uncapped players in Rudolf Straeuli's 22-man 'Bok squad. Russell, who set the 'Bok trials "alight" when he came onto the field, completed two years of a Bachelor of Social Science. He left UCT at the end of 2001 to take up a contract with the Mpumalanga Pumas after being bypassed by Western Province, possibly because he was considered too small for the flyhalf berth.

Russell shone playing for UCT. "He is a fantastic talent," said Spencer King, General Manager of the FNB UCT Rugby Club. It was King who first recruited Russell from Selborne College in East London in 1999 on one of the Club's first rugby bursaries. "I saw straight away that he had enormous potential," he confirmed. In 2000, Russell made the Western Province U–21 side while still an U–20 player and moved into the UCT First XV as flyhalf.

The nippy flyhalf is anything but an incredible hulk, but has special talents, says King. "He's very quick off the mark, has incredible feet and the ability to beat players on a one-on-one basis." At the end of last year he made the Western Province Sevens B side on an inter-provincial tour to Durban. It was then that national Sevens coach, Chester Williams, spotted the youngster and he was selected for the national side as flyhalf.

What is his future in this position? "It depends on the coach and how he is handled," King reflected. "If he's looking for a Braam van Straaten, a big player who can kick 55m downfield, then Brent is not his man. But if he's looking for something unusual on the field, someone who can find the gaps and beat players, he could use Brent as an impact player when the opposition defences are tiring. He's still young and needs to be handled carefully. I'd hate to see him go the route of Gaffie du Toit. After all, kicking and tackling can be coached. You can't coach skills like speed off the mark and the good feet he has."

Russell visited his alma mater to watch a UCT game last month. "He's a delightful guy," King said. "I hope they look after him."

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