In the third instalment of a five-part series, SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick their best Springbok XV of the past 25 years.
JON CARDINELLI (chief writer): Henry Honiball was a hard man who lent the Springbok defence some bite in the late 1990s. The Boks have had some heavy hitters in that No 10 channel since – Butch James and Handre Pollard, to name a couple – but none that have cut with the same force and precision as ‘Lem’.
The multi-talented flyhalf also had the ability to organise and unleash the backline to devastating effect on attack. Indeed, who could forget that backline move in Wellington back in 1998.
The Bok had a scrum deep in All Blacks territory, and the forwards fired to give the backs a great platform. Joost van der Westhuizen passed to Honiball, who ran at the gainline and then held the ball up before putting Pieter Rossouw through for a crucial try. The Boks went on to record their first win in New Zealand since 1981 and later claimed their first Tri-Nations crown.
The Boks were always a different beast when Fourie 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.
CRAIG LEWIS: There’s only one master at scrumhalf that could possibly be picked. The 76-Test-capped Fourie du Preez would probably make most World XV selections, and if picking him in his prime, he’s probably the first name I’d scribble down for this best Springbok XV of the past 25 years.
Of course, the late great Joost van der Westhuizen would be another worthy contender, but the 2007 incarnation of Du Preez dominating the World Cup is the one that remains at the forefront of my memory.
When it comes picking a flyhalf I’m going left field here once again. If I can take the 2007 version of Du Preez, then I also want his halfback partner from that World Cup-winning squad: Butch James.
There was just something about Butch’s hard-hitting, no-holds-barred approach that made him such an asset, and he undoubtedly put opposition defenders on high alert whenever he played in his prime.
WADE PRETORIUS: Let’s get the easy one out of the way … Fourie du Preez plays 9. Joost was one of my first rugby idols growing up and he changed the way the position was played; he turned it from a functional role to an attacking position with his dinks over the top and his trademark darts around the base of the maul and in doing so, he put many colleagues out of work.
But Du Preez remains one of the best of all time in any era and arguably one of the most complete players to wear the green and gold. A tactical brain, he had the skills to execute Plan A time and time again. It’s no wonder that his retirement left the Boks scrambling for years to replace him. Truth be told, any player in the decade or two after him will be compared to the great.
The perfect 10 to join Du Preez is a completely different prospect. South Africa has been blessed with some fine talent, some were coached badly and some failed to kick on from franchise level. I think the thing with memories and trying to nail your colours to one player is that all the 10s listed above and below have had some bad games.
Real stinkers. Pollard, in my opinion, should be the one to go on and earn his selection but he has plenty to prove still … and he has a ropey history with injuries. But without that luxury, my choice must be Morne Steyn. And my colleagues will note with surprise how seldom I agree with Dylan Jack on things.
His boot was extremely reliable, he won many games with it and wrote himself into the history books by more than just knocking over the simple chances. During the Bulls’ glory years, he showed his class with ball in hand and his appetite to attack but was often restricted at international level because of the gameplan employed.
If you want someone who makes fewer mistakes than anyone else, someone who can execute a plan flawlessly, someone who is a rock on defence then you pick Steyn here. Until four years’ time, when we can reassess Pollard’s longevity at the top.
MARIETTE ADAMS: I was tempted to stick Morne Steyn in here as my flyhalf option, but ultimately Handre Pollard edges his former teammate for the position.
Pollard has long been the Springboks’ first-choice playmaker, but 2019 was the year he finally proved that the No 10 jersey belongs to him exclusively. Quietly, without much fanfare, he came into his own at the World Cup and is now South Africa’s standalone record point-scorer in the history of the four-yearly showpiece tournament.
Pollard is the most physical flyhalf in world rugby at the moment, so when he is on song very few, if any, opponents can match him in terms of defence and getting his team over the gainline through the sheer power in his carries.
He has already won a World Cup and a Rugby Championship with the Boks, but scarily enough, Pollard could well be on his way to accomplish more in the green and gold if he remains a consistent performer.
At scrumhalf, the late Joost van der Westhuizen was a wonderfully gifted player, but no local scrumhalf can ever come close to Fourie du Preez. A master tactician like no other, Du Preez’s exploits in the Bok jersey remain unmatched.
With his cultured boot and supreme rugby intelligence, Du Preez was the driving force behind that dominant Springbok team between 2007 and 2009. The greatest Springbok scrumhalf of all time and easily one of the top three greatest No 9s in the game ever.
DYLAN JACK: He may not have had the same cutting edge with ball in hand as the others on this list, but Morne Steyn remains one of the most consistent flyhalves to have played for the Springboks.
During his time on the Test scene, Steyn broke a plethora of records, including becoming the fastest Springbok to score 700 points and the first player to score all 31 of the Boks points during that win against the All Blacks in Durban. Unfortunately, he will always be regarded as a one-dimensional player when, in truth, he was far more than that.
As for scrumhalf, this will always be a flip of the coin between Joost van der Westhuizen and Fourie du Preez, but it is the latter who I am going to for. Du Preez remains one of the most cerebral players to have ever donned a Bok jersey. He saw things happening way before they did and there is a reason why South Africa were so reliant on him before the emergence of Faf de Klerk.
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