Heinrich Brüssow will bring something new to the Springbok dynamic in the coming matches, and at the subsequent World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The past three seasons have witnessed some significant comebacks. Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie returned to international rugby in 2013, and immediately made an impact. Victor Matfield has boosted the Bok lineout since coming out of retirement in 2014. And if all goes to plan, captain Jean de Villiers will complete his comeback to Test rugby next month, and subsequently lead the Boks at the 2015 World Cup.
On Tuesday, Heyneke Meyer announced that Schalk Burger will lead the Boks against the All Blacks this weekend. Much was made, and rightly so, about Burger’s rise from the proverbial ashes. Two years ago, Burger was fighting a life-threatening illness. Through a stubborn refusal to accept defeat, he has fought his way back to fitness and back into World Cup contention.
Take nothing away from Burger, whose story is unique and cannot be celebrated enough. But the biggest comeback story of the week is that of Brüssow, a player who has the potential to boost South Africa’s chances of winning the 2015 World Cup.
On Wednesday, Meyer confirmed that Brüssow will face the All Blacks this coming Saturday. It will mark the openside flanker’s first appearance for the Boks since the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against Australia.
The selection is a triumph for Brüssow, who has never given up on his Bok dream. In April, he told SARugbymag.co.za that he still harboured hopes of playing at the 2015 World Cup.
He had just come off a strong season in Japan, and made a statement in his Vodacom Super Rugby performances for the Cheetahs. Brüssow was playing with authority and confidence. He was convinced that Meyer could not ignore him forever.
Meyer must be commended for altering his stance on Brüssow. In the past, Meyer believed that Brüssow’s height was a hindrance as it robbed the Boks of a lineout option. He felt that Brüssow’s breakdown expertise could not compensate for a perceived lack of physicality at the gainline.
But much has changed over the past four years, and Meyer hasn’t been afraid to say he has got it wrong. Indeed, Meyer changed his mind about Francois Louw in September 2012. Louw was recalled, and has gone on to become one of the most influential players within the Bok set-up, and one of the best opensider flankers in world rugby.
Meyer has realised that a specialist opensider will be needed at the World Cup later this year. He has also admitted that the Boks will need an alternative in this position, and has been impressed with Brüssow’s game-shaping displays in Super Rugby.
Shortly after voicing his World Cup ambition in mid-April, Brüssow was sidelined with a broken arm. Fortunately, he did enough in his stint with the Cheetahs to grab Meyer’s attention.
Meyer was especially impressed with Brüssow’s performances in Australia and New Zealand. It was a statement of what the fiery openside could offer against the Wallabies and All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, and possibly against the other big teams at the World Cup.
Brüssow has a massive opportunity this Saturday. He has enjoyed success against the All Blacks in the past. He has the ability to stifle and frustrate opposition teams at the breakdown. If he gets it right this weekend, the Boks will win the ruck battle and limit the All Blacks attack.
It would prove what many already believe to be true: that Brüssow can lend the Boks an edge at the World Cup, and that two excellent opensides in Brüssow and Louw can be accommodated in a squad of 23.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images