Joe van Niekerk’s proud revelation about how one of George Smith’s dreadlocks came into Springbok possession raises the question of what our national side’s priorities are.
Smith is one of the few players who has maintained his dreadlocked hairstyle throughout his career, and as Big Joe will tell you, having long hair at the breakdown can be a big mistake.
Van Niekerk has broken the silence of a story involving a bet amongst the Springboks during a Vodacom Tri-Nations match, where the man in possession of one of Smith’s matted extensions at fulltime would receive a monetary reward. Werner Greef allegedly took the prize, but there’s more to the tale than that.
“It was AJ Venter who said he would give $100 (about R700) to the man who came off the field with one of Smith’s dreadlocks,” Van Niekerk told the Cape Argus’s Dale Granger. “AJ himself then surfaced from one of the rucks with it, but somehow it ended up in De Wet Barry’s pocket. Afterwards he came into the dressing room smiling and said: ‘Guess what AJ. I’ve got his dreadlock.’ Thereafter I’ve got no idea how it ended up with Werner.”
The Springboks and the Wallabies have always maintained a fierce and physical rivalry, but the pulling out of an opponent’s hair does appear to be a bit much. Things are obviously intense at rucktime, and while nobody expects players to quiz each other on Western ettiquette or exchange quiche recipes, there has to a line that is drawn somewhere.
Rugby will always be a rough game, and it’s players will always be subject to injuries, but physically removing appendages from an opponent’s body? What’s next on the Springboks hitlist, Richie McCaw’s fingernails? Or perhaps one of Nathan Sharpe’s teeth?
Van Niekerk’s comments will do little to help the Bok cause, and could inspire an Aussie onslaught. Already one of the best fetchers in the modern game, Smith doesn’t need much inspiration to get out onto the park and perform to his potential, but the flapping of Big Joe’s tongue could add an intensity to the Wallaby flanker’s game that might cost the Boks dearly.
“He’s one good sharp player,” Van Niekerk admitted, “a beauty who’s been there for some time as a standout.”
This is not the first time that Van Niekerk has opened up verbally ahead of a crunch match between these two countries. When he was selected at No.8 for the last Vodacom Tri-Nations game held in Brisbane in 2003, he told the media how he could not wait to have a go at the Aussies.
On match day, scuffles escalated into brawls, and this fixture is where Bakkies Botha obtained his reputation as a dirty player amongst the Australian rugby public.
Van Niekerk may wear the No.6 jersey for the third time this season on Saturday and in doing so will go up against Smith. He has played in the position against the Wallabies before.
“I played No 6 against Australia in our first Tri-Nations match at Loftus last year (South Africa won 22-16) so it’s not entirely new to me. I would say it’s a pretty straightforward position and it’s quite clear what your job is.
“Having said that, the role of fetcher is not something you can just jump into. You play more direct, as opposed to having a roving brief. It’s not the friendliest position in the world, but I’ve got a job to do there. I’ll throw my head in there as long as it’s for the (good) of the team.”
Van Niekerk was also optimistic about the inclusion of 20-year-old Pierre Spies in the squad, even though this selection places more pressure on him as the senior member in the back row. Like Van Niekerk, Spies is a player with a surplus of speed and handles the ball like an inside back.
“He’s got all the attributes to be world class and he’s a huge talent,” he said. “He may not have played at this level, but as a pack we’ve got tons of Test experience now, so I don’t think it will be a problem.”