Where are they now: 2002 Junior Boks (Backs)

In the ninth part of a series, DYLAN JACK rewinds to the inaugural 2002 U21 World Championship and looks at what happened to the title-winning Junior Springboks.

Jorrie Muller

The first-choice fullback at the tournament, Muller started all five games and scored 16 points and at the time was regarded as one of the brightest talents in a team filled with future Springboks.

Muller, whose domestic career included playing for the Lions and Lyon, would be thrust into Rudolph Straeuli’s Springboks the following year as a 21-year-old, but he struggled on the Test scene and his career never really recovered.

After taking a step away from rugby, Muller concentrated on a mining construction and trucking business he started with his father in 2000 and also served as Leopards assistant coach in 2012.

Odwa Ndungane

Ndungane played just one game for the SA U21 side (in the warm-up against the SA Defence Force XV), scoring one try.

After starting his career with the Border Bulldogs and Vodacom Bulls, Ndungane joined the Sharks and would go on to play over 200 senior games for the Durban side.

He retired in 2017 and, together with twin brother Akona, started the Ndungane Twins Foundation, which aims to create opportunities for young South Africans from disadvantaged communities.

Clyde Rathbone

Captain of the U21 team, Rathbone scored four tries in the tournament. He made his senior debut for the Sharks, but decided to join his family in moving to Australia at the end of 2002, signing for the Brumbies.

He would go on to play 26 Test matches for the Wallabies, but ultimately injuries forced him into retirement.

Since retiring, Rathbone has co-founded Letter, a platform for public, written conversation and debate, which aims to advance the quality and impact of conversation.

Jean de Villiers

A future Springbok and Stormers captain, De Villiers played three games at outside centre and two on the wing at the U21 tournament, scoring five tries.

His domestic career included over 100 games for the Stormers and 23 games for Munster, while he played 109 Tests for the Springboks, captaining the team between 2012 and 2015. After a short stint with the Leicester Tigers, De Villiers retired from all rugby in 2016.

De Villiers has since taken up a role as a pundit and commentator on SuperSport and is the head of philanthropy at Citadel Investment Services. He also does charity work for the Chris Burger/Petro Jackson Players Fund.

Dewey Swartbooi

Swartbooi played at wing and centre for the Junior Springboks. He started his professional playing career with the Bulls in 2002 before playing for the Cats, Lions and Boland Cavaliers.

After retiring, Swartbooi started his coaching career with Boland, before he joined the Bulls as a youth coach in 2015. He currently serves as head coach at the University of Johannesburg, a role he has held since 2019.

Tshepo Kokoali

Kokoali came off the bench twice during the U21 tournament, kicking two conversions and a penalty. The flyhalf’s domestic career included playing for the Lions, Cheetahs and Sharks, before he moved to France with USB.

In 2009, Kokoali retired from rugby and started his post-rugby career as an events manager for SABMiller. He currently works as a project manager for Group Africa Marketing.

Ricky Januarie

One of two future Springbok scrumhalves in the 2002 squad, Januarie started all five games ahead of Fourie du Preez, who would usurp him at senior Test level.

The nippy scrumhalf started his domestic career with Boland, before playing for the Lions and the Stormers. He also had stints overseas with the Ospreys, Lyon and La Rochelle.

Januarie retired from international rugby in 2011, having played 47 Tests, winning a World Cup, British & Irish Lions series and a Tri-Nations.

Fourie du Preez

Du Preez was used off the bench in 2002, but would go on to become one of South Africa’s greatest-ever players, playing over 100 games for the Bulls and 76 Tests for the Springboks.

During his domestic career, Du Preez won three Currie Cup and Super Rugby titles, while he also won three titles in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath. On the Test scene, Du Preez won a World Cup and two Tri-Nations titles, with his final appearance for the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup.

Du Preez retired from all rugby in 2016 and has since invested in a small private-equity company called Fledge Capital and most recently has worked as a scrumhalf consultant with the Bulls.

Francois ‘Swys’ Swart

A flyhalf with a deadly accurate boot, Swart started all five games at the tournament and scored a total of 118 points, including 20 conversions, 24 penalties and two drop goals. He memorably kicked a penalty in extra time of the semi-final against New Zealand, getting the team through to the final against Australia.

Sadly, Swart passed away in a car accident in 2004. At the time, he was contracted with the Bulls and was part of the team’s Currie Cup-winning team.

His alma mater, Affies, had since started an U15 week in his honour, while his family established the Francois Swys Swart Fund for Needy Rugby Players.

JP Nel

Nel, who served as a backup to Rathbone and De Villiers in 2002, would make his first-class debut for Western Province before moving to the Bulls.

It was in Pretoria that Nel made his name as a tough-tackling centre, as he made over 100 combined appearances for the Bulls.

After stints with the Shining Arcs and Griquas, Nel retired in 2013.  He currently serves as a head coach of Russian team Strela.

Ashwin Willemse

After winning the U21 World Cup, Willemse started his professional career with the Cats and quickly made his Springbok debut in 2003, and his form was rewarded with awards for Saru Player of the Year, Most Promising Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year.

Willemse was included in Jake White’s 2007 World Cup-winning squad and thereafter moved to France with Biarritz. 

After retiring, Willemse served as a commentator and analyst on SuperSport and has also launched the GreenSmile Foundation in 2012, which looks to create better opportunities for children from socio-economic hardships.

Photo: Tertius Pickard/Touchline Photo/Gallo Images

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Dylan Jack