With 12 days until rugby’s showpiece tournament, SARugbymag.co.za takes a look at the greatest inside centres to wear the green and gold at the World Cup.
Jean de Villiers
Captain, centurion and intercept king, Jean de Villiers fitted plenty into a career that was also notable for injuries in big tournaments.
Despite suffering a number of serious injuries in his career, including in the 2007 and 2015 World Cup tournaments, he holds the record for the most tests by a Springbok centre and became South Africa’s fifth Test centurion in 2014. Blessed with a powerful build, an incredible eye for the intercept and a deceptive speed, De Villiers enjoyed a highly successful career which saw him win a World Cup, British & Irish Lions series and two Tri-Nations titles.
Damian de Allende
A force of nature in South Africa’s midfield, Damian de Allende has been the go-to inside centre in the post-Jean de Villiers era. De Allende has formed two of the Springboks’ most-capped centre combinations with Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am, winning the 2019 World Cup, Rugby Championship and 2021 Lions series alongside the latter.
His powerful carries from first-phase were key to the Boks bouncing back from a tournament-opening defeat to claim the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019.
Hennie le Roux
As a member of the 1995 World Cup-winning squad, Hennie Le Roux featured in all the Springboks’ matches throughout the campaign.
He started his Bok career at flyhalf, but shone when he moved to inside centre, especially when paired with Japie Mulder. His partnership with Mulder did a fantastic job to contain the legendary All Black centre pairing of Walter Little and Frank Bunce in the historic 15-12 win over New Zealand in the 1995 final.
One of South Africa’s greatest-ever rugby talents, Frans Steyn started his international career on the left wing and ended it at flyhalf, but was at his most effective as a fullback and inside centre.
It was in the No 12 jersey where he showed his prodigal skills after being thrown into the heat of the 2007 World Cup as an injury replacement for Jean de Villiers. Slotting a long-range penalty in the final against England, Steyn became the youngest-ever player to win the World Cup at 20.
The “Rocket Launcher” played in two more World Cups for the Springboks, winning the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time as a utility back replacement in 2019. Sadly, a knee injury robbed him of becoming the second Springbok to play in four World Cups as he announced his retirement from professional rugby ahead of France 2023.
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