JON CARDINELLI selects the best players who represented the Springboks between 2010 and 2019.
15 Willie le Roux
Le Roux will be remembered as one of South Africa’s most innovative and unpredictable players. While he wore the No 15 jersey, his decision-making and distribution from the first-receiver position in later phases often allowed the Boks to make telling inroads. He didn’t always get the credit he deserved, but the 61-Test veteran played a key role across South Africa’s successful 2019 World Cup campaign.
14 JP Pietersen
Big, powerful and deceptively agile, the retreaded lock will go down in history as one of South Africa’s greatest wings. Pietersen won everything there was to win at international level between 2007 and 2009. He shone for the Boks at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, and was also part of the Bok side that won all but two of its games in 2013.
13 Jaque Fourie
Fourie seemed to get better with age. One wonders how much more he may have achieved had he remained with the Boks – rather than his club in Japan – during the latter stages of his career. Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am have given Bok fans reason to cheer in recent years, with the latter’s vision and organisational ability playing a key role in the 2019 World Cup triumph.
12 Jean de Villiers
Has there ever been a better Bok midfield combo than De Villiers and Fourie? The two players complemented each other well on attack and defence. The pair had few rivals in the latter discipline during the professional era. De Villiers went on to lead the Bok side between 2012 and 2015, and won his 100th Test cap in 2014.
11 Bryan Habana
South Africa has never produced a better finisher. Habana broke the national try-scoring record in 2011 when he surpassed Joost van der Westhuizen’s tally of 38. He finished his Test career in 2016 with 67 touchdowns, two behind the all-time record-holder Daisuke Ohata of Japan. In 2014, he became the first player of colour to represent South Africa in 100 Tests.
10 Handre Pollard
This selection is bound to spark some debate. Points-machine Morne Steyn was so crucial to the Bok cause in 2009 – the year South Africa beat the British & Irish Lions and won the Tri-Nations. Steyn struggled in subsequent seasons, however, and it was only when Pollard emerged in 2014 that the Boks started to turn things around. Pollard was impressive at the 2015 World Cup as a 21-year-old. He returned from a long lay-off in 2017 to establish himself as one of the premier pivots in world rugby. His goal-kicking and game management helped the Boks win the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
9 Fourie du Preez
The Boks were always a different beast when Du Preez was pulling the strings from the No 9 position. The accuracy of his passing and kicking game often fractured opposition defences and provided the Boks with opportunities to score. One of the best scrumhalves – and indeed best players – to have ever represented the Boks.
8 Duane Vermeulen
Like Du Preez, Vermeulen was often described by his coaches as a player that summed up the situation in an instant. A powerfully built player with an appetite for collisions and breakdowns, Vermeulen still managed to contribute with some telling passes over the years. Who could forget the behind-the-back offload that set up Du Preez for the winning try in 2015 World Cup quarter-final against Wales? More recently, Vermeulen was named Man of the Match after the 2019 World Cup final.
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit
Du Toit was described as a freak of nature when he made his debut for the Boks in 2013. He excelled for South Africa – mostly in the lock position – during a difficult season in 2016 and was subsequently named SA Player of the Year. Du Toit shifted to No 7 in 2017 with outstanding results. He was named SA Player of the Year in 2018 and World Rugby Player of the Year in 2019.
6 Schalk Burger
Nobody put their body on the line like Burger. While he played more at blindside and No 8 in his latter days with the Boks, he continued to add value at the collisions and breakdown. Following his comeback from a life-threatening illness in 2014, he took his passing and linking game to another level.
5 Victor Matfield
The Boks have produced many outstanding locks over the years. None have reached the same heights as Matfield, though. The veteran continued to dominate at the lineout in his later years. He retired for the second time in 2015 after 127 Tests.
4 Eben Etzebeth
Bakkies Botha didn’t feature much in the early parts of the decade, and retired for good after a brief comeback in 2013 and 2014. South Africa’s premier enforcer in the 2010s was Etzebeth, a large and aggressive specimen who played all 85 of his Tests this decade.
3 Frans Malherbe
Malherbe cracks the nod ahead of Jannie du Plessis, another consistent contributor for the Boks between 2007 and 2015. Malherbe was the Boks’ premier tighthead prop at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups. His scrummaging prowess and work around the park was invaluable to the world champions’ cause at the recent tournament in Japan.
2 Bismarck du Plessis
It’s hard to leave John Smit out as a hooker and captain given his impact over a long and distinguished Test career. Few will argue, however, that Du Plessis was the premier Bok hooker when both were vying for the position in 2010 and 2011, and in the four years that followed. Du Plessis was a powerful ball-carrier, defender, and scrummager. His decision-making and strength over the ball at the breakdowns made him an X-factor player, though.
1 Beast Mtawarira
There was a brief period in 2017 when some critics questioned Mtawarira’s worth as a scrummager and all-round contributor. The iconic loosehead prop was always well respected by those in the know, however, and continued to dominate opponents in the twilight of his 117-Test career. Mtawarira produced one of the great scrummaging performances in the 2019 World Cup final to help the Boks break the English and claim that elusive global title.
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