How would SA Rugby magazine’s Europe-based South African XV have fared on the year-end tour?
The great club versus country conflict has resulted in many a lopsided tour de farce.
In 2007, England sent a second-rate team to South Africa because their clubs refused to release their players due to the play-off games on the go. England were duly smashed in Bloemfontein and again in Pretoria, but ultimately, you’d have to say the right choice was made as London Wasps went on to win the European Cup – the greatest club prize north of the equator.
Jake White left a number of top players at home when the Boks toured Europe in 2006, a move that was vindicated through the performances in the 2007 Super 14 and World Cup. Players were able to rest ahead of a demanding pre-season schedule, and when they began the regional tournament in February, they were well prepared.
The Bulls and Sharks went on to contest the Super 14 final and the majority of those players were selected to represent the World Cup side in France.
In short, it’s all about priorities.
One-off Tests are effectively friendlies, and more importance should be attributed to the bigger matches in the international or regional competitions.
The Boks are in for a demanding 2009 season with the Super 14 followed closely by the British & Irish Lions tour. Thereafter follows the rigorous Tri-Nations, a competition the Boks haven’t won since 2004.
It would be fair to say that victory in these three tournaments takes precedence over winning three one-offs in the UK.
SA Rugby magazine has selected what it thinks is a side who could have done really well on the year-end tour. We’re just throwing it out there well aware that such a drastic move would never have come to fruition. But we’re all allowed to dream right?
There are scores of South Africans thriving abroad. If the Bok management was to recognise these players as a valuable resource, South Africa could very well have their cake and eat it.
South Africa XV
15 Gaffie du Toit (Toulouse)
Du Toit has been utilised at flyhalf for the famous French club, but the former Springbok would be a useful fullback in European conditions. His big left boot is his strongest attribute, and tactically you can’t afford to travel to the northern hemisphere with a fullback devoid of a strong kicking game.
14 Brent Russell (Clermont)
The Pocket Rocket was mucked about by various provincial and Springbok coaches, but injury inhibited his career at Saracens in the 2007-08 season and he duly accepted an offer from ambitious French club Clermont. In the mould of Jason Robinson and Shane Williams, this pint-sized dynamo has the ability to create opportunities from a standing start and very rarely fails to finish.
13 Marius Joubert (Clermont)
Joubert’s fantastic 2007-08 season for Clermont must have left Bok selectors regretting last year’s snub. The outside centre decimated defences in the Top 14 and European Cup, scoring a try on his debut in the latter competition. Present form aside, he’d be a sure choice at 13 having already won 30 Bok caps in this position.
12 Brad Barritt (Saracens)
Despite being tipped by many as a future Bok centre, Barritt failed to convince both Jake White and Peter de Villiers he was good enough for Test rugby and could work towards qualifying for England. A hard-hitting defender and a clever distributor, Barritt also possesses a physical element that will come in handy on the slow fields of Blighty.
11 Philip Burger (Perpignan)
It’s a sight defenders grew to loathe – the baby face scrunched in a snarl, the diminutive body accelerating through a half gap of space, and the reckless finish that may have won an Olympic gymnastics medal. Burger has the uncoachable combination of speed and spatial awareness, and has utilised these qualities to devastating effect.
10 Butch James (Bath)
James struggled for consistency in the 2008 Test season, but as Bath’s premier flyhalf he’s celebrated as the quintessential Mr Dependable. As one of the bigger, more physical pivots in the game, the northern brand of rugby suits him to a tee. His great tactical kicking and bruising defence also make him an automatic selection.
9 Neil de Kock (Saracens – captain)
The halfback said goodbye to South Africa and WP in 2006 and, in two short seasons, he’s made a powerful statement in Europe. Silky distribution, a sure boot and a winger’s turn of pace mark De Kock as a dangerous attacking player. Selecting the former Bok No 9 as the team captain is a no-brainer given his success as Saracens’ skipper last season.
8 Joe van Niekerk (Toulon)
Big Joe was massive in the Boks’ first two Tri-Nations fixtures of 2008, dispelling the myth he is not suited to heavy conditions where physical strength comes to the fore. ‘Explosive’ is the perennial term used to describe this multi-talented back rower. As a veteran of 50 Tests, his experience would be a further asset to Toulon.
7 Shaun Sowerby (Toulouse)
Sowerby has attained god-like status since his 2006 move to Toulouse, and although he’s operated primarily as a No 8, he’d be a valuable ball-carrying blindside for the Boks. One Test cap is no reflection of his ability, as his hardman virtues both on attack and defence rival that of celebrated grafters like Juan Smith and Rocky Elsom.
6 Gerhard Vosloo (Brive)
The form openside in France last year, it’s a shame Vosloo’s talent was never appreciated in his native country. The former Cats flanker is proficient both as a fetcher and as a ball-carrying option, and his size and power tell on the slow, wet fields up north. While Vosloo has said he would not turn down the chance to play for France, there’s no doubt he’d prefer to wear the green and gold.
5 Ross Skeate (Toulon)
Overlooked by White because of his lack of bulk, Skeate delivered consistently industrious performances for both the Stormers and WP. Being in the Victor Matfield mould as a No 5 lock, he was equally unfortunate to be on the same provincial roster as Andries Bekker. If Matfield and Bekker were unavailable, the national side would lose very little in giving Skeate a go.
4 Gerrie Britz (Perpignan)
A flank under Jake White, Britz was used as both a lock and loose forward in his final days at the Stormers. His versatility is a factor and while he never neglects the hard graft, his mobility would be a great asset under the ELVs. Having played 13 Tests for the Boks, Britz certainly has the experience needed on an end-of-year tour in northern-hemisphere conditions.
3 BJ Botha (Ulster)
It remains a mystery why Botha was cast aside by the Bok management in 2008. The Wallabies and All Blacks are prone to gripe about his scrumming tactics, but in the world of front rankers, you accept these jibes as massive compliments. The Ulster tighthead has enjoyed a strong start to the Celtic League, and looks set to make a similar impact in the European Cup.
2 Tiaan Liebenberg (Toulon)
Best described as an all-rounder, Liebenberg toured the UK with the Springboks last November, and played against the Barbarians. Accurate in the lineout, strong in the tight and devastating in the loose, he also possesses that mongrel characteristic most coaches prize. It’s a quality that often means the difference in the forward-oriented matches up north.
1 Daan Human (Toulouse)
The anchor of the Toulouse scrum for the past four years, Human is one of the many Springboks who’ve bettered themselves since leaving South Africa. He recently signed a three-year extension with the French Top 14 champions, and at 32 would add a wealth of scrumming experience to any Test pack. Human has four Test caps, all achieved in 2002.
16 Gary Botha (Harlequins), 17 Cobus Visagie (Saracens), 18 Cliffie Milton (Stade Francais), 19 Wikus van Heerden (Saracens), 20 Michael Claassens (Bath), 21 Derick Hougaard (Leicester), 22 Ronnie Cooke (Brive)
Coach: Heyneke Meyer
The man many feel should have succeeded Jake White as Springbok coach has enjoyed a cracking start up north with the Leicester Tigers and, aside from his tactical expertise, there aren’t better man-managers in the game. Although he’d prefer to build a team over three or four years, his influence on this bunch would undoubtedly yield positive results.
By Jon Cardinelli