SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick a bench to complement their best Springbok XV of the past 25 years.
JON CARDINELLI: How does one go about picking a bench for a best XV? Do specialist impact players – or finishers, as most modern coaches like to call them – crack the nod, or is it a case of picking the next-best individuals in each of those bench positions?
The Boks won the 2019 World Cup by favouring what many – even England boss Eddie Jones – recognised as a second starting team on the bench. What follows is my Bomb Squad, the players who narrowly missed out on selection in my Bok XV of the past 25 years.
I’ll start with the backs. Frans Steyn is a match-winner – whether he starts or finishes a game – and would add value to any 23. Handre Pollard is the best all-round flyhalf the Boks have produced since Butch James. Joost van der Westhuizen had the ability to create something out of nothing.
It was hard to leave Juan Smith out of my starting XV. Another player who epitomised the Bok ethos – and will be remembered as one of the best lineout forwards at the back of the lineout – is included on my bench.
Mark Andrews is another member of the 1995 World Cup-winning team who I felt deserved recognition. While he played No 8 in the World Cup final of that unforgettable tournament, he will go down in history as one of the great lineout exponents and indeed one of South African rugby’s hardest men.
Jannie du Plessis was a consistent performer for the Boks over the course of a long career. I thought long and hard about whether to include Os du Randt or Beast Mtawarira in my starting XV, and ultimately felt that the latter’s all-round ability couldn’t be ignored. Like Mtawarira, however, Du Randt will be remembered as one of the best players South Africa has ever produced.
The toughest call in terms of bench selections was who to back in the reserve hooker berth. Malcolm Marx was the standout player for South Africa in 2017, but was overshadowed by Bongi Mbonambi in the big tournaments of 2019.
CARDINELLI’S BOK 23 – 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Henry Honiball, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (c), 2 Bismarck du Plessis 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Os du Randt, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Mark Andrews, 20 Juan Smith, 21 Joost van der Westhuizen, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Frans Steyn.
CRAIG LEWIS: Picking a Bok ‘Dream Team’ has been a lot of fun during this time of lockdown. But this walk down memory lane becomes particularly challenging when trying to settle on the best combination for the best of the rest on the bench.
Starting with the hooker replacement, I’m swayed towards Malcolm Marx. Surely set to become one of the all-time Bok greats, Marx’s impact off the bench in the 2019 World Cup final was a thing of brutal beauty, and he simply has to make my side.
In terms of my prop replacements, the legend that is Os du Randt simply has to be in the match 23, while CJ van der Linde – who earned 75 Test caps in a decade-long Bok career – also makes it in.
Then, while Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha had the starting second-row berths locked down, the abrasive Eben Etzebeth would certainly be placed among my subs, while unstoppable Pieter-Steph du Toit is the perfect utility forward.
Among my backs replacements, I’ve just got to go for another great in Joost van der Westhuizen, who was ahead of his time, while our latest World Cup-winning flyhalf Handre Pollard also earns a berth. At this point, you need the perfect utility back, and Frans Steyn is undoubtedly that man.
LEWIS’ BOK 23 – 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Os du Randt, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Joost van der Westhuizen, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Frans Steyn.
WADE PRETORIUS: If Rassie Erasmus thought his Bomb Squad was a ‘good’ bunch, then creating the all-time Bok XV bench should be the hardest selection I’ve made all week.
Erasmus’ 2019 subs showed us what we need – two props, versatility and people who can change games with a specific skill set. Remember Flo’s turnover against Wales in the semi-finals? So, with that in mind, I’m going Malcolm Marx with CJ van der Linde and Os du Randt. Marx’s game-breaking ability and his work rate is well known while my pair of replacement props could easily be flipped into starters such is their technical abilities and track record.
Eben Etzebeth is my lone lock replacement and he sneaks into the squad ahead of Danie Rossouw. Having PSDT in my starting lineup affords me the ability to pick just one bruiser on the bench and there’s no better player to replace Bakkies than his protege Eben.
In my back row, and I’m gambling a bit I’ll admit because I want Heinrich Brussow AND Juan Smith. The ying-yang effect of Brussouw’s breakdown work combined with the herculean ball-carrying of Smith will tilt any contest into this side’s favour. My forward-dominated bench – hat tip to Rassie once again – leaves me to select only two backline players but it is also the ace up my sleeve … Cheslin Kolbe, who can play almost anywhere in the backline, and Handre Pollard, who earns his spot over Frans Steyn. The hot-stepping Kolbe ticks three key positions and gives me a massive advantage over my peers while Pollard can fit in at 10 and 12 with ease adds a third-kicking option. This team really does have it all.
PRETORIUS’ BOK 23 – 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 James Small, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph Du Toit, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Os du Randt, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Juan Smith, 21 Heinrich Brussow, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
MARIETTE ADAMS: Well, this selection marathon has been all kinds of fun, but we’re now in the home stretch where we pick the Bok bench or Bomb Squad, whichever you prefer.
I omitted John Smit from the starting lineup, but he is the most successful Springbok skipper of all time, so he cracks the nod as the backup hooker. Beast Mtawarira and CJ van der Linde have 192 Test caps and two World Cup winners’ medals (one each) between them, so I’ve chosen them as the replacement props. Leaving Beast out of my run-on XV was a tough call, but he remains one of the greatest Springboks of all time and having such a high-quality scrummager in reserve would send any other opposition into panic mode.
As was the case with my Handre Pollard selection over Henry Honiball, I’m going to go ahead and pick Eben Etzebeth ahead of Mark Andrews on my bench. I can only select players based on what I’ve seen them do on the field and in the case of both Honiball and Andrews, I was just too young to remember them in their prime. Etzebeth might not be as well loved as Bakkies Botha or Victor Matfield, but after their respective departures, he stepped up and took command of the Boks’ lineout, while also seamlessly claiming the enforcer role.
After raving on about him in the loose-forward selection and then proceeding to leave him out of the starting XV, I think it’s fair to say Juan Smith was also going to be the first name penned down when picking a bomb squad. Simply put, he was one of the best to ever play for the Springboks and should be recognised as such.
The late, great Joost van der Westhuizen, JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn are the backline cover additions to round off the bench. Van der Westhuizen was big (or bigger than most No 9s), fast and fearless, had a strong pass, could break defensive lines with relative ease and tackled himself into the ground. Steyn (a two-time World Cup winner) and Pietersen both play more than one position, adding a different dimension and an element of unpredictability.
ADAMS’ BOK 23 – 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Os du Randt.
Subs: 16 John Smit, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Juan Smith, 21 Joost van der Westhuizen, 22 JP Pietersen, 23 Frans Steyn.
DYLAN JACK: Picking a Bok bench is especially challenging as there is the quandary of either going for the next-best player in each position or selecting players who have made a habit of making an impact in the latter stages of Test matches.
This is especially true at scrumhalf. I doubt there has ever been a Bok scrumhalf who has come off the bench to the effect that Herschel Jantjies has in the early stages of his international career. However, it would be criminal to leave the legend that is Joost van der Westhuizen out of my Bok squad.
As a replacement front row, I have gone for Bongi Mbonambi, Os du Randt and CJ van der Linde. Mbonambi may not have the brute physicality that Malcolm Marx does, but his work rate and set-piece specialisation could be key in the latter stages of any Test match.
Picking 1995 World Cup-winner Mark Andrews gives me an option for a replacement lock who can also comfortably cover at No 8 if there is a need. Meanwhile, Francois Louw showed his ability to change the flow of Tests and win key turnovers as a substitute at the 2019 World Cup.
As my two remaining backs, I have gone for Frans Steyn and Cheslin Kolbe. Steyn can cover flyhalf, centre and fullback, and offers a more direct option to Morne Steyn. Kolbe offers a game-changing X-factor option at wing and fullback.
JACK’S BOK 23 – 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (c), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Os du Randt, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Mark Andrews, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Joost van der Westhuizen, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images