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Fifteen active South Africans still play rugby who remember beating the All Blacks in New Zealand. As each day passes, they are part of a small and shrinking group of international players.
The home loss happened in Hamilton, in September of 2009. Springbok coach Pieter de Villiers raised a fuss by claiming there was nothing to see in that quiet town. But after the match, he cheekily noted: “We did find something in Hamilton.”
P-Div did his think and J-Div did, too; the Paarl Poacher swooping on a loose Dan Carter pass to run in yet another interception try.
Fullback Frans Steyn banged three penalties over from his own half: the first and last Test player to do that (and one was from 60 m and another from 58 m), with very little fanfare and a no time wasted in his pre-kick routine.
Both teams scored two tries; thus, the kicking and territory and discipline stakes were high. Morne Steyn tried and succeeded with a drop goal; but any one thing could be looked at as the pivotal moment in a 32-29 win.
Fifteen of the victorious Boks that day still play professional rugby, and they could actually form a starting team with a little juggling:
Frans Steyn (the Siege Gun), Odwa (Do No Wrong) Ndungane, Jaque (Chase the Yen) Fourie, Ruan (Best Ulsterman from Bloemfontein) Pienaar, Bryan (Speedy) Habana, Morne (the Sharpshooter) Steyn, Ricky (Doughnut or Baguette or Koeksister) Januarie, Pierre (the Body) Spies, Schalk (Pass the Wine) Burger, Heinrich (the Rat) Brussow, Ryan (Definitely) Kankowski, Bismarck (the Big Bad Battleship) du Plessis, Jannie (He Fills the ER and then He Empties it) du Plessis, Chiliboy (no nickname needed) Ralapelle, and Beast (no nickname needed) Mtawarira.
Habana and the Steyns are in France nowadays, but one is in and one is out of this year’s Bok vintage. Frans Steyn has been in imperious form for several years, can can still fill the 10, 12, or 15 jersey (it’s looser now that he’s dropped ten kg), and will fear no French. Morne has an odd way of hanging around, like that gunslinger who is farming potatoes until someone really needs someone gone. Habana may have finally reached the end of the road.
Fourie sleeps on a bed made of money in some Japanese villa. Spies still avoids tackles – on him and by him – and looks good doing it. In 2009, he was considered heaps better than Duane Vermeulen. Ndungane still does his modest version of a wingman: doesn’t get bundled into touch, doesn’t break tackles, and doesn’t fall off many.
Schalk Burger was a warhorse for Saracens this season, and could certainly play for the Boks still, but in a very different style than his abrasive 2009 way.
Brussow was a Kiwi-killer in the dark places of the breakdown and won a lot of shoulder battles even with Sir Richie, but just like CJ Stander, was never big enough for Bok coaches’ tastes. So, he eats a lot of high grade sushi and drives one of those really low, fast cars.
The du Plessis brothers brawl in the Top 14. Bismarck is still streets better than anyone in the Bok squad at the combination of snaffling-throwing-dominance-gainline-scummaging, but he was also difficult to manage at the World Cup, and in the new Bok mindset, a kinder, gentler, softer Bok is a better Bok.
So, it’s Chiliboy ahead of Bismarck, in one of the more idiotic depth charts ever heard of.
Kankowski was Warren Whiteley before Whiteley; a rangy, super-fast, skilled No 8. Januarie waddles from slow Top 14 ruck to slow Top 14 ruck, but he was also something of an All Black slayer back in the day. Remember that kick-gather in the House of Pain?
Ruan Pienaar just received a farewell reserved for demi-gods at Ulster: the matches he won almost single-handedly justify it. Is Rudy Paige really better than him?
Nigel Owens was the referee back then; Graham Henry was the Kiwi general: “They played structured rugby, and played it very well” he said of the Boks.
Fifteen Saffas still playing can tell their mates: “We beat the All Blacks in New Zealand.”
Three of them are in the Bok squad: Frans Steyn, the Beast, and Chiliboy.
And the winning coach is playing tiddlywinks.