Cape Town - On the 2014 end-of-year tour, the Springboks were licking their wounds after a resounding defeat to Ireland in Dublin.
The South Africans were unable to capitalise on their physical dominance as they won enough possession from the scrums and lineouts at the Aviva Stadium, with scrumhalf Francois Hougaard battling with his clearing from the base and tactical kicking.
That resulted in Cobus Reinach getting the nod at No 9 from then-Bok coach Heyneke Meyer for the following week’s showdown with England at Twickenham, and it was a big call to make.
Reinach had just three Test caps to his name, all off the bench, and the England game was his first Bok start.
At least he had a familiar face in Sharks teammate Patrick Lambie at flyhalf – with Handre Pollard dropped after a disappointing outing against Ireland.
But the pressure was on Reinach to produce the goods in front of 82 000 spectators at the home of English rugby, and he responded in magnificent fashion.
I was in the press box on that cold, rainy London day, and was expecting the worst after what had happened in Dublin a week earlier.
But I was hoping that Reinach would take his chance, as he was the sort of attacking spark that the Boks needed if they were going to get the backline going in the absence of the injured Fourie du Preez.
The then 24-year-old excelled on the day as he brought some pace and clarity on attack, with his service to Lambie smooth for most of the match, while he also absorbed some of the pressure with a couple of excellent touch-finders.
He was a menace on defence as well, most notably hauling in England fullback Mike Brown from behind.
Reinach’s crowning glory was an exceptional try set up by Lambie and fullback Willie le Roux, who also had a superb game.
The Boks held on for a 31-28 triumph to extend their unbeaten run against England to 12 matches, and Reinach was understandably all smiles when I bumped into him in the Twickenham corridors afterwards.
It felt as if he had come of age as an international scrumhalf.
“I thought Cobus was superb. He had two charge-downs, but England are probably the best in the world with putting pressure on the No 9.
“But the way he controlled the game – he is still a youngster and it was his first Test start in very difficult, wet conditions,” Meyer said.
“But he really turned them with the boot and made some great tackles, and got us some quick ball. He was a revelation at No 9.”
On Tuesday, he was recalled to the Bok starting line-up by coach Jacques Nienaber to take on England, and while he is much more experienced now at the age of 31, he only has 19 Test caps to his name, including nine starts.
He was controversially left out of the 2015 World Cup squad, and played a bit-part role in the 2019 title run – although he scored the quickest tournament hat-trick as he took 21 minutes to grab three tries against Canada.
Reinach has a point to prove and is pushing for a permanent starting spot, and the circumstances are somewhat familiar to the 2014 England match, with first-choice scrumhalf Faf de Klerk injured, and Herschel Jantjies having battled against Wales and Scotland.
His experience of playing in Europe for Northampton and now Montpellier should help him to deal with the cold and slippery conditions expected at Twickenham tomorrow, where he will team up with club teammate Pollard as well.
Reinach stepped in for De Klerk in the third Test against the British & Irish Lions, where he produced a solid performance, with his boxkicks right on the mark, while he also acquitted himself well in two further starts against Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
He made a significant difference to the Bok effort when he replaced Jantjies at halftime against Scotland last week, and would want to build on that display. Now is the time for Reinach to take his chance on the big Twickenham stage, with the Boks looking to avenge the 12-11 defeat in London in 2018 …