Mark Keohane, in his post 1992 Springboks and World XV #DreamTeam, selects the respective South African and international No 10s who made the biggest impression on him during his rugby writing career.
I started writing rugby professionally for Independent Media, then the Argus Group, in 1992. It coincided with the Springboks return to Test rugby and two home matches against the All Blacks at Ellis Park and the then World Champion Wallabies at Newlands in Cape Town.
Naas Botha, who I had revered as a youngster watching rugby, was in his final year. The Botha, who played in those two Tests, two Tests for a World XV against the All Blacks in New Zealand and also captained the Springboks on the disastrous end of year tour of France and the United Kingdom, was past his prime and isn’t a consideration for this selection.
I have made my choice on which flyhalf made the greatest impact on me when reporting on the Springboks between 1992 and the 2019 Rugby World Cup final win against England.
I’ve seen plenty of Springbok No 10s and I have always maintained there is no such thing as a bad Test player. If you get one Test for the Springboks, you can play rugby, but only the very best get to play many Tests, and this series is about recognizing and celebrating the very best.
There have been some incredible moments from Springbok flyhalves since 1992. Jannie de Beer’s five drop goals against England at the 1999 World Cup quarter-final in Paris, France. I was in the press box that afternoon and I have never experienced such an explosive one-man kicking demolition of a team in the space of half an hour.
De Beer’s 80th minute touchline penalty kick to take the 1999 World Cup semi-final against Australia in extra time was one of the most insane pressure kicks I’ve ever witnessed. The wind was hectic and swirling De Beer was kicking into it. What a kick. What a moment.
I was at Twickenham when Andre Pretorius kicked four drop goals to beat England and in Rustenburg in 2006 when Pretorius kicked an injury-time penalty to beat the All Blacks and save Jake White his job. You could argue the 2007 World Cup was won in Rustenburg as much as it was won in Paris.
I was at Ellis Park when Brent Russell’s magic feet danced through the Wallabies defence and at the old Boet Erasmus in Port Elizabeth when Louis Koen kicked a last-minute penalty to beat Argentina.
I was in Buenos Aires when Braam van Straaten silenced the most aggressive crowd I’ve ever experienced with a late 40 metre penalty for the Boks to win 37-33 after the Pumas had fought back from 34-19. It needed something special to half the Pumas momentum and surge for a win and Braam provided it.
Van Straaten kicked a similar pressure penalty in Cardiff when the Boks beat a star-studded Barbarians 41-31. The Baabaas, with a backline that had Augustin Pichot at No 9, Carlos Spencer at No 10, Daniel Herbert at 12, Brian O’Driscoll at 13, Chris Latham at 11, Christian Cullen at 14 and Matt Burke at 15, had led 31-13 after 30 minutes. The Boks, through the pack, took charge of the game to be in front 38-31. Again, the momentum shifted in the final minutes to the Barbarians, but when the Boks won a penalty at the breakdown, Braam stepped up and killed the notion of a romantic 38-all ending.
Van Straaten, who had limitations on attack, was almost robotic in his goal kicking accuracy. He was a wonderful team player, among the most popular in the squad and also one of the most aggressive defenders.
The 1995 World Cup winner Hennie le Roux alternated between 12 and 10 for the Springboks and Lions, but I always thought 10 was his best position.
Gaffie du Toit had it all physically and in skill, but mentally he lacked something and he is one of the biggest Springbok flyhalf disappointments because I thought he had everything to dominate the game in a No 10 jersey.
Frans Steyn, like Franco Smith, had the odd No 10 cameo, Jaco van der Westhuizen was more Carlos Spencer than Andrew Mehrtens in the way he played, and there was also his three drop goals against Scotland at Murrayfield when playing under Jake White.
Ruan Pienaar was tried at No 10, but played most of his Springbok rugby at No 9, Harry Viljoen played Bok centurion and specialist fullback Percy Montgomery at No 10 for a few Tests, while Derick Hougaard was undone by injury and playing under Bok coach Rudolf Straeuli at the 2003 World Cup.
Pat Lambie and Elton Jantjies, in recent years, threatened to produce something special and seemingly more permanent but neither quite nailed it over a period of time. Lambie will always have the memory of his injury time 52 metre penalty at Ellis Park that beat the All Blacks, but I wish there had been more in the No 10 jersey from a player whose talent was only matched by his popularity among his teammates and the opposition.
Butch James was a favourite and very respected by the opposition. James’s 2007 World Cup campaign was a highlight and his performance in the play-offs has never got the proper acknowledgement.
I asked James what had changed in his game because of Eddie Jones’s influence during the 2007 World Cup. Jones worked as the Springboks Technical coach and advisor to White.
James said it was the way Jones gave him confidence and simplified his on-field thinking.
‘He told me that if as a flyhalf I am controlling the opening 20 minutes of a Test and the final 20 minutes, the chances are good we are winning the Test,’ said James.
Joel Stransky’s 1995 World Cup final drop goal in extra time to beat the All Blacks 15-12 is in Springbok rugby folklore and I was privileged to be in the Ellis Park press box when Stransky struck gold for South African rugby.
Stransky’s performance for the Boks against Australia in Bloemfontein in 1996 was also special.
Former Springbok and Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer always raved about the mental strength of Morne Steyn. Meyer described Steyn as a warrior who would never let himself or his teammates down. He said Steyn’s value wouldn’t always be appreciated by supporters, but those who played alongside him and opposite him respected his qualities as a world-class Test flyhalf.
Steyn’s 50-plus metre penalty at Loftus in 2009’s second Test against the British & Irish Lions, in the last act of the game, won the Springboks the series and enhanced Steyn’s reputation as one of the great goalkickers of his generation and of all time.
Steyn could also play, more than many of his detractors would ever concede and any player who scored 31 points in a Test against the All Blacks, as Steyn did, deserves his place when the big names of Springbok flyhalf history are discussed.
Handre Pollard is another of the No 10 big names. Pollard was always destined for glory from his school days at Paarl Gymnasium. He kicked the under 20 Baby Springboks to victory against New Zealand at Newlands when still a matric schoolboy and was voted the best under 21 player in the world. He sizzled on his Test debut against Scotland, despite being just 21 years-old and tore the All Blacks defence to pieces in scoring two tries in a 19-point performance at Ellis Park.
Pollard’s resolve was severely tested by injury but in 2019 he delivered in the biggest way on the biggest stage. Pollard’s match-winning penalty in the semi-final against Wales showed his big match temperament and he kicked 22 points in the World Cup final. That alone makes him one of the great flyhalves of Springbok rugby.
So why isn’t Pollard my selection at No 10? His name is Henry Honiball!
I have never encountered a more unassuming modest international player, totally unfazed at the status of being a Springbok and more interested in being a good human being. My goodness, Honiball, nickamed Lem (Blade in English), for his ability to cut opponents in two on defence, was good.
Coaches didn’t always know if he was a No 10 or a No 12, but I always felt confident of victory whenever he was playing No 10 for the Springboks.
Honiball’s final Test was against the All Blacks in Cardiff in the 1999 World Cup bronze medal play-off. His opposite number, Andrew Mehrtens, known for his humour as much as his all-round class as a player, took it upon himself to personally thank Honiball for retiring after that match.
Mehrtens was grateful he wouldn’t have to take another tackle from Honiball.
If there was a criticism of Honiball it was that his goalkicking could be erratic but the successes were greater than any failures.
Honiball had presence in everything he did and a calm that can’t be coached. He was a rare and exceptional rugby player and one that was definitely rated more highly in other countries than his own.
Honiball was integral to Nick Mallett’s Boks who won 17 Tests in succession and was massive when the Boks beat the All Blacks at the old Athletic Park in Wellington.
Henry Honiball is my Springboks post 1992 #DreamTeam No 10.
As to who opposes Honiball, the choice for me was easy, and that is in no way disrespecting the world-class qualities of so many international players who have excelled between 1992 and 2019.
Wallaby Stephen Larkham was an exceptional flyhalf and his drop goal against the Springboks at Twickenham at the 1999 World Cup semi-final was more spectacular live than it ever looks on YouTube; and it looks pretty spectacular on video.
England’s Jonny Wilkinson is another who made his mark on world rugby. If you are English, then there is Jonny and the rest. If you are Australian, then Larkham and the rest. Both are among the best No 10s to have played the game and for England, Rob Andrew (pre-Wilkinson) and Owen Farrell (post Wilkinson) are among the best to have played internationally.
Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara is another wonderful player. O’Gara played 128 Tests for Ireland and two for British & Irish Lions. He had everything as a player, whether in the red of Munster or the green of Ireland. He was also bloody tough and, from my time with the Springboks, hugely respected within the South African squad. His points-scoring is well documented in being Ireland’s most lethal marksman, but to limit his impact to just points scored is to do his career an injustice. He was much more and comfortably among the best of his generation.
O’Gara’s successor Jonny Sexton’s career peaked a few seasons back when he was named the world’s best player. Sexton turns 35 this year and hasn’t got much time left in the Test arena to add to his 97 internationals (91 for Ireland and six for the Lions). He has scored 814 international points and been at the heart of Ireland’s top three world ranking in the past five years. However, if asked to pick O’Gara or Sexton, then my vote would go to O’Gara.
Italy’s Diego Dominguez carried Italy’s fortunes for more than a decade with his unerring boot, Argentina’s Juan-Martin Hernandez momentarily flourished internationally, Scotland’s Craig Chalmers and the Welsh pairing of Neil Jenkins and Stephen Jones had rewarding careers and the modern All Blacks Mehrtens, Spencer, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga were and are so talented.
Barrett is the best athlete currently playing the game, be it at No 15 or No 10. He is the best attacking player in the game and has been for the past four years. But for me he isn’t the best No 10 I have seen since 1992.
Barrett, just 28 years-old, has played 83 Tests and he will be remembered as one of the greats to have played rugby.
I’ve seen plenty of good No 10s over the years. Australia’s Michael Lynagh, like Botha and New Zealand’s Grant Fox, had their glory days in the mid to late 1980s when they competed with Argentina’s Hugo Porta for the mantle of World’s Best No 10.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Matt Giteau was the next best after Larkham for the Wallabies, while Elton Flatley and Quade Cooper enjoyed good times.
France had so many No 10s over this period, but I recall performances from Frank Mesnel, Alain Penaud, Didier Camberabero and Christophe Lamaison. I always enjoyed watching Frederic Michalak and Thomas Castaignede, who played flyhalf, fullback and centre in his 54 Tests.
The opposition flyhalf I enjoyed watching the most was All Blacks Dan Carter. His performance against France in the Pool stages of the 2011 World Cup at Eden Park in Auckland was extraordinary to watch from the press box. The television cameras follow the ball and there was so much Carter did in his game management and control that the cameras don’t show a television audience.
Carter was the master, who overcame extreme adversity with injury, and the left-footed Carter finished his Test career with a first ever right footed conversion in the World Cup final against Australia at Twickenham in 2015.
Carter was named player of the match in the World Cup final and was also the player of the match in the All Blacks semi-final win against the Springboks at Twickenham a week earlier.
He was sensational in both matches in taking control in the most commanding fashion, through two of the most telling drop goals against the Boks and Wallabies respectively.
Carter won 15 of his 19 Tests against the Springboks, with five wins in seven starts in South Africa. He averaged 14 points a Test against the Springboks, scored 20-plus points on four occasions against the Boks and would finish with three tries, 33 conversions, 55 penalties, three drop goals and 255 points against the Boks.
His Test career would end with 1598 points, made up of 29 tries, 293 conversions, 281 penalties and eight drop goals, with a goal kicking accuracy of 78 percent. He would win 99 and draw one Test in 112.
WATCH: CARTER HIGHLIGHTS