Johannesburg - Springbok centre Andre Esterhuizen has been voted the best player in England by his fellow professionals across the land, an accolade that will reinforce coach Jacques Nienaber’s decision to bring him back into the fold for the series against Wales.
While the Bok squad for the June series against Wales will only be announced when South Africa’s involvement in the United Rugby Championship playoffs is over, Nienaber has confirmed Esterhuizen was part of the alignment camp the Bok coach held for overseas-based players and has hinted to the media that Esterhuizen will play in the third of the three-match series.
The blockbusting centre — he is a whopping 1.93m and 113kgs — has been sensational for London Harlequins since joining them from the Sharks in 2020 and has fully justified the hefty salary they pay him. He is one of the best-paid players in the English Premiership, earning 340 000 pounds a year (about R6.7-million).
Esterhuizen had been at the Sharks since he finished school at Klerksdorp High in 2013 and amassed 97 caps (Super Rugby and Currie Cup) before taking advantage of the transfer window that opened in South Africa not long after lockdown in early 2020.
At that stage, he had earned eight caps for the Springboks, a tally that would have been much more, but for the fact that Damian de Allende has been preferred to him at inside centre.
When he did not go to the World Cup, there was hope in England that he would switch allegiances to Eddie Jones’ Red Rose army after a three-year residency period (World Rugby changed the rules regarding eligibility for national teams — a player that has already played for his country can qualify for another after a three-year stand-down period), but Esterhuizen squashed that emphatically.
He told an English reporter who asked if he would make the switch: “I’m too South African to play for England.”
Perhaps when Esterhuizen said that he had in the back of his mind a recollection of a famous altercation he had with England captain Owen Farrell.
That was when the Springboks were pushing hard for victory against England at Twickenham in November 2018 and Farrell flung himself at Esterhuizen, felling him with a high and armless charge. Inexplicably, Aussie referee Angus Gardner failed to award the penalty, which was virtually in front of the posts and a “gimme” for Handre Pollard.
When Gardner okayed the “tackle”, Farrell infamously punched he air in glee at having got away with murder, and a minute later his team had won 12-11.
A few weeks later Gardner said of the incident: “In hindsight, having discussed it with some other referees... the general consensus is that a penalty should have been given.”
A few days after that match, Rassie Erasmus famously posted a video of him teaching Esterhuizen how to tackle high and without his arms, a sarcastic dig at Gardner. Of course, that video would not be the last Erasmus produced to embarrass match officials…
Three years later, the 28-year-old Esterhuizen has been honoured with the RPA Players’ Player of the Year award at the English Premiership awards evening held on Wednesday after receiving the highest number of votes from his fellow players.
“It is an incredible honour to win this award and for it to be voted by all the players and teams that I’ve played with and against makes it even more special,” said Esterhuizen.
In 23 appearances this season, Esterhuizen has scored 48 points –including eight tries, two penalties and a conversion – and assisted six tries.