Harlequins Andre Esterhuizen faces the toughest midfield test in world rugby as he attempts to nullify Bristol’s Semi Radradra tomorrow and catch the eye of the Springbok selectors preparing for the summer series with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa.
Radradra is returning from injury and rejoins a potent Bristol match squad that has taken the club to the top of the Gallagher Premiership. However, Harlequins have been making strides of their own and are up to third in the table despite lapses in concentration that have seen them concede an average of 20 points in each of their last five Premiership games.
Esterhuizen admits similar inconsistency against Bristol at Ashton Gate would be fatal and that means attempting to shut down Radradra who has confirmed his status as the most dynamic centre in world rugby since moving to the West Country from France. Esterhuizen, who is 6ft 4ins and 17st 7lbs, is a significant threat in his own right, with his physique earning the him the nickname “ Andre the giant”, but there is more to his game than defence busting runs and big hits.
Esterhuizen told RugbyPass: “I haven’t played against Radradra before and he is a phenomenal player and you want test yourself against the best. Any player would relish the chance to play against someone that good. I am on for any challenge.”
He is being watched by Dublin based Felix Jones, one of the Springbok assistant coaches ,who is sending the European players videos of their performances and the burly centre has his sights on making the three test series. Esterhuizen , who must oust World Cup winner Damian de Allende , of Munster, to grab the Springbok No12 jersey, added: “Playing for the Springboks against the Lions is a massive driver for me and it would be a dream come true.
“It only happens once every 12 years and it is a massive opportunity and you want to put yourself forward. That is my main personal goal apart from helping Harlequins and I would love to make the Springbok squad. It is a great thing to have Felix (Jones) looking at all of the matches and I have been getting work ons from him and the communication has been really good.
“The first few games with Quins I just tried to keep it simple but as you play more then the confidence builds and you try to add the rest of your skills set. Confidence goes hand in hand with that and I started out in my career as a ball carrier and then went to Japan and that helped my rugby by bringing in other facets of the game – my play making and distribution
“The No12’s job is to get the attack going, getting over the advantage line or pulling in defenders to create space on the outside. Since being at Quins I have learnt a few things that have been added to my game.”
Esterhuizen has forged a flourishing relationship with outside half Marcus Smith and hopes the pair can help deliver the consistency for Quins that has been missing at times this season. He added: “In the last eight weeks our consistency has been a lot better and we are in the top four. It is happy camp but there are lapses in games when we go quiet for 10- 20 minutes and the opposition gets a few tries and it is something we have to work on. If we go quiet for 20mins against Bristol you are not going to get back into the game.
“ I had played with different styles of outside halves in South Africa and you learn to adjust and having played a few games with Marcus we are starting to find each other. He is learning to run lines off me and the combination is getting better. I knew about Marcus before I joined the club and what he could offer and his style. I have been really impressed by him.”