By front row forward standards he is still a 'rookie', but 23-year-old Trevor Ntando Nyakane is beginning to show real promise.
Born in Bushbuck Ridge, schooled at Ben Vorster in Tzaneen and having represented Limpopo at the 2007 Craven Week, the former Baby Bok (2010) is making rapid progress under the tutelage of double World Cup-winner Pieter (Is) du Randt in Bloemfontein.
In only his second full season of Super Rugby the loosehead prop obviously still has many areas of his game to work on.
However, he is now a key member of a vastly improved Cheetahs pack that will play a vital role as the Bloemfontein franchise attempt to achieve an unprecedented three consecutive victories on the road when they face the Western Force in Perth on Saturday.
Nyakane had to overcome a shoulder injury, which forced him off the field after 43 minutes of the win over the Waratahs in Sydney last week, but Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie believes he will be as effective as he has been in the last two outings - victories over the Highlanders in Invercargill and the Tahs.
"He is playing very well," Fourie told this website, adding: "His defence, in particular, is on a different planet from where it was before.
"He has always been a good ball carrier, but against the Highlanders in particular he made some really big hits and had a very high workrate on defence."
Nyakane had a low-key start to the season - attempting just 12 tackles in 80 minutes against the Sharks, while missing four. In the next match, against the Chiefs, he was even more ineffective, making just three tackles.
However, he really came into his own against the Highlanders - attempting 22 tackles, making 19 and even secured two turnovers.
Last week, against the Waratahs, he made nine of his 10 attempted tackles in the just more than 40 minutes he was on the field and again featured in the 'turnovers won' column.
His scrumming is also improving steadily, especially with Du Randt on hand to share his vast reservoir of knowledge.
"He [Nyakane] is very awkward to scrum against, because he is stocky and powerful," the Cheetahs assistant coach told this website.
While the Cheetahs prop is still a long way off from laying claim to a spot in the Springbok front row, he could do so if he continues to make the progress that has been so evident in his game this year.
"Maybe not right now, but I do believe Trevor has the ability to play for the national team in the future," Fourie said.
"There are still aspects of his game he can work on.
"However, if you compare his game now with a year ago, he has made such remarkable progress that in the next two years, if a player like Beast [Tendai Mtawarira] perhaps decides to call it a day [he could step up].
"At this stage Beast is in a class of his own, but if he does decide to call it a day then I feel players like Trevor and Steven Kitshoff of the Stormers are potential candidates."
Fourie said that despite what some pundits might think, South Africa certainly have depth at loosehead prop.
By Jan de Koning
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