Although most rugby around the world continues to be played without stadium fans, CRAIG LEWIS takes a nostalgic look at South African players worth the price of admission.
*Ed’s note: These player selections were limited to standout individual performers from the 21st century
1 Beast Mtawarira
There aren’t many front-row brutes who could be truly regarded as fan favourites around the world, but Mtawarira shattered the stereotype for unfashionable props.
Over an iconic career, which encompassed 117 Tests and concluded with a masterclass in the 2019 World Cup final, Mtawarira established a status in the game that would surely be worth of ‘Hall of Fame’ recognition.
2 Bakkies Botha
It’s surely fair to say there will never be another player quite like Bakkies.
This Springbok icon was a colourful character on and off the field. Although beloved by Springbok supporters and teammates, he was also the arch-enemy of many opposing teams.
His physicality and absolute ownership of the term ‘enforcer’ made him one of the most entertaining players to watch, and while it occasionally meant he found himself on the wrong end of the referee’s whistle, it never diluted his impact on the game.
3 Schalk Burger
‘The Incredible Schalk’ was a loose forward in a back’s body. His mobility, ball skills, and penchant for popping up in open play meant he was one of the most unpredictable but enjoyable players to watch.
In his prime, Burger was still one of the most physically imposing players, and possessed the ability to single-handedly influence the outcome of a match.
4 Bryan Habana
One of my most unforgettable ‘live’ sporting experiences was watching the enthralling clash between the Springboks and All Blacks at a packed Ellis Park in October 2013. On that day, Habana scored two trademark tries that underscored his reputation as one of the most devastating wings to ever play the game.
Over 124 Tests and an illustrious career for the Vodacom Bulls and Stormers, you could pick any number of standout moments, but there can be no doubt he was the sort of player who spectators turned up to watch.
5 Cheslin Kolbe
While all four previously mentioned players have since retired from the game, 27-year-old Kolbe still has a lot of rugby left in him. Yet, over the last few years he has established himself as one of the most electrifying talents in the world game.
In France he has become a talismanic figure for powerhouse club Toulouse, while his performances over 14 memorable Tests for the Springboks have made him a firm favourite among South African supporters.
There are very few players with Kolbe’s ability to conjure up the sort of magic moments we saw at the 2019 World Cup, and the next time the Boks are in action, he is the first player many will be coming to see.