Heinrich Brüssow says he would relish the opportunity to play for the Springboks at this year’s World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports.
This past weekend witnessed a couple of statement-making performances. David Pocock delivered an influential display for the Brumbies in Auckland. Across the ditch in Perth, another breakdown bandit proved the undoing of the Force.
It was thanks to the ball-stealing brilliance of Brüssow that the Cheetahs finished their Australasian tour on a high. Brüssow has maintained a brilliant standard since returning from a stint in Japan, and many feel his game-shaping skills could be an asset to the Boks in a World Cup year.
Of course, Heyneke Meyer isn’t short of options in the openside flank position. If fit, Francois Louw will travel to the global tournament as the incumbent. The Boks have a quality alternative in Marcell Coetzee, who really came of age in 2014. If required, Schalk Burger, who played openside initially before switching to blindside later in his career, can do a job at No 6.
And yet, there are no guarantees in a sport like rugby. Injuries and a loss of form can force a rethink to the pecking order. Indeed, less than three years ago, the Boks were in the midst of a loose forward crisis. Because of the injuries, Meyer called up Louw in Bath and asked him if he would like a second crack at Test rugby.
Before that recall, Louw was the forgotten man of South African rugby. At the time, Louw told SA Rugby magazine that he still dreamed of representing the Boks. He wasn’t bitter about the snub. If anything, it made him work harder. He was determined to lift his game to the point where he would be too good to ignore.
There are a lot of similarities between Louw’s story and Brüssow’s. The Cheetahs flanker has taken the disappointment in his stride. Louw simplified his goal in 2012, and Brüssow has done the same in 2015: be too good to ignore.
Brüssow would prefer that his performances do the talking rather than any message in the media. This much is clear when he is pushed on the subject of a recall.
‘It’s a difficult question to answer,’ he told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘It’s every South African player’s dream, to play for the Boks, and I’m no different. But I can’t afford to worry about that now, as I have a responsibility and duty to the Cheetahs.
‘The time in Japan [with the Docomo Red Hurricanes] was good for me. It was good to find a new challenge and to experience a new environment. But now that I’m back, I am fully committed to the Cheetahs’ cause. And I am really enjoying my rugby at the moment.’
The central franchise may be known for their attacking play, but with Brüssow in tow, they are also a competitive unit on defence.
Brüssow forced his way into the Bok side through an exceptional breakdown performance for the Cheetahs against the British & Irish Lions in 2009. He went on to feature prominently in the subsequent Test series, and in the Tri-Nations. That incredible season included three consecutive wins against the All Blacks.
While the game has changed since 2009, the better players have adapted. The All Blacks’ seasoned skipper Richie McCaw is still a factor at the breakdown. Evidently, so are men like Pocock and Brüssow.
The Cheetahs openside says good decision-making comes with experience and age. However, you never stop learning and adding to your game.
‘The breakdown is all about decision-making. It's never easy. You have to pick your moment to compete. You also have to know when to stay away. It all depends on the opposition. Sometimes you won’t make many turnovers because your focus is staying on your feet rather than committing to the ruck against a particular opponent.
‘We’ve worked hard on our defence over the past couple of weeks, and that hard work is starting to pay off,’ he says of the Cheetahs’ recent improvements. ‘There’s also a good balance and understanding in our loose trio.’
The Cheetahs are buzzing after their recent victory in Perth. At the same time, they know that nothing but a win against the Reds this Saturday will suffice. And once again, the breakdown battle will be keenly contested.
‘There are a lot of guys in that team who are good at the breakdown,’ notes Brüssow. ‘Liam Gill is very good in that area. We will need to be careful, we have to secure our own ball and not allow our ball-carriers to become isolated.’
Word from Bath is that Louw is playing some outstanding rugby. Coetzee has been impressive despite the Sharks’ struggles in 2015. Both should go to the World Cup later this year and provide the Boks with strong openside flank options.
And yet, should one of those players break down, Meyer would do well to reconsider Brüssow for the task. His current form cannot be ignored.
Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images