Toasting Terblanche

Stefan Terblanche is more than holding back the years. He’s time-travelling.

The 33-year-old Sharks fullback is playing arguably the best rugby of his career. He is light years ahead of any of the other South African counterparts and has been for the last two seasons.

Many were critical of the Sharks’ decision to contract Terblanche from Welsh side, Ospreys, questioning why a younger player had not been groomed to succeed Percy Montgomery when he joined the Stormers.

When Terblanche started to turn in excellent performances with mechanical regularity, I reserved judgement, wondering whether that level of performance was sustainable for a player his age. He has answered that question in the most comprehensive manner. The humble pie tastes good.

He has been the one consistent in a youthful backline prone to inconsistency, and has for the most part filled the massive void left by Montgomery (although the Sharks miss Montgomery’s goal-kicking strike rate of 80% plus). However, in every facet of play Terblanche matches or surpasses what Montgomery offered the Sharks, and reports from within the camp are that he makes a similar contribution in terms of mentoring and advice off the field.

“I think he is the best fullback in South Africa by some distance at the moment,” legendary Springbok and Sharks fullback André Joubert told keo.co.za.

“He was absolutely brilliant last year and seems to have carried that form into this season. He has established himself as one of the kingpins in the backline and has been unbelievable in every facet of his play.

“With the modern game featuring so much kicking, it dictates that you have a fullback who is good under the high ball and one who has a good kicking game. Stefan is excellent in both those departments.”

Joubert was at the end of his career when Terblanche came into the Springbok squad and he said he made a conscious effort to mentor the youngster, who started his career as a wing. Now the student has turned teacher and Joubert said he has heard from senior squad members of the Sharks’ squad that he is providing a quality education for the bucks at the Sharks.

“You can never underestimate the value of having an experienced player of Stefan’s calibre in your squad,” he said. “The knowledge he is able to impart and the calmness he’ll bring in pressure situations makes him a massive asset to the Sharks.”

Such was the quality of Terblanche’s performances in 2008 that there was a strong call for him to be included in the Springboks’ Incoming Tour and Tri-Nations squads. If his forms continues at its current level, expect that to be the case closer to the announcement of the squad to face the British & Irish Lions.

Joubert believes Terblanche can still make a valuable contribution at Test level, and said he has all the skills to make him very effective against the Lions.

“I think he would be superb for the Springboks and if you were picking a fullback on merit now you wouldn’t look beyond him,” he said.

“Northern hemisphere sides generally kick a lot more than those from the southern hemisphere and you need a fullback who is confident under the high ball and one who can return kicks with interest, getting you some good field position. That’s not to discount his ability to counter-attack, which is still very good.

“I’d have him in my Springbok squad for sure.”

By Ryan Vrede