The South African flag was draped over the coffin of Joost van der Westhuizen at his funeral. Picture: EPA
The South African flag was draped over the coffin of Joost van der Westhuizen at his funeral. Picture: EPA

PART 5: Top 50 post-isolation Springboks

By Lunga Biyela Time of article published Apr 3, 2020

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CAPE TOWN – Today we give you the top 10 in our series on Top 50 post-isolation Springboks which began on Monday.

While many won’t agree with the top 10, we hope it’ll create some talking points to keep this conversation going for a number of days.

Today we have two legendary loosehead props who dominated the game for a number of years, a pair of scrumhalves who made a name for themselves at Loftus and a number of players who played over 100 games in the green and gold.

Have a look at the other players ranked from 50 through to 11 and tell us how we’ve done. Have we hit the nail on the head, or are we wide of the mark?

PART 1: Top 50 post-isolation Springboks

PART 2: Top 50 post-isolation Springboks

PART 3: Top 50 post-isolation Springboks

PART 4: Top 50 post-isolation Springboks

Here are the players who make it into our Top 10 post-isolation Springboks.

10. Joost van der Westhuizen (89 caps)

For many years, Joost van der Westhuizen was the most reliable No 9 in the game. He was unpredictable at the base of the scrum or ruck, and could even get through the tightest of gaps. He was good in defence too and was not afraid of getting his hands dirty when he needed to.

During the 1995 World Cup final, he famously dealt with the Jonah Lomu threat, putting in a number of tackles on the big guy as the Springboks won the tournament. And who can forget his try during their World Cup quarter-final clash against England in 1999?

9. Schalk Burger (86 caps)

Possessing an impressive 1.93m, 114kg frame, Schalk Burger famously had little regard for his body, which he used time and time again to help the Springboks get the advantage over their opponents. The cliched phrase “putting your body on the line” was Burger’s mantra throughout his career.

He came back from a serious neck injury suffered in 2006 to play a part in the Boks’ World Cup win the following year. And if we forgot just how tough he was, he came back again after battling bacterial meningitis in 2013. He was an absolute freak of nature.

8. John Smit (111 caps)

Every team that’s won the World Cup since 1987 has had one thing in common; they all had a great leader. On top of being one of the best hookers around, John Smit was a great leader. He knew how to get the best out of the players around him.

This was displayed in the Boks game against Tonga in France in 2007. With Smit on the bench, the team struggled, with Tonga at one stage looking like they were about to cause one of the biggest upsets at that tournament. Once Smit was brought on, the Boks were able to pull themselves together to seal a narrow win against the unfancied Tongans.

7. Os du Randt (80 caps)

The big Os du Randt was a powerful scrummager who ensured that Springbok pack outmuscled most teams they came up against.

He was largely forgotten about in South African rugby after suffering a series of injuries that kept him out of the game for a number of years until Jake White brought him back in 2004. That was an inspired decision as Du Randt would feature regularly for the next four years despite being on the wrong side of 30.

His last game in the green and gold was the victorious 2007 World Cup final, which wasn’t a bad way to go out.

6. Percy Montgomery (102 caps)

The blonde-haired fullback was the first Springbok to reach 100 caps in a career that saw him win the Tri Nations on more than one occasion, go on a 17-match winning streak, and chalk up over 800 Test points. Oh, and he also won the World Cup, kicking all but three points in the final.

He was first called up in 1997 as an outside centre, but it’s at fullback where he made his name. He was unfairly targeted by fans during his early days, but he came back with a bang after spending some time in Wales.

5. Tendai Mtawarira (117 caps)

Tendai Mtawarira famously scrummed England great and seasoned veteran Phil Vickery into the ground during the first Test of the 2009 British and Irish Lion tour, and the legend was born.

While he became one of the best scrummagers in the game, he was also famous for his ball-carrying where he was used as a wrecking ball to gain a few extra metres. His runs were always accompanied by enthusiastic shouts of “BEEEEAAAAST” from the stands wherever he played, whether in the green and gold or the black and white for the Sharks.

Last year, he scrummed Kyle Sinckler and Dan Cole out of the game as the Boks dominated England in the World Cup final. Like Os du Randt before him, Mtawarira called time on his international career a world champion.

4. Fourie du Preez (76 caps)

When Joost van der Westhuizen called time on his career, he passed the torch on to Fourie du Preez, who represented the Bulls and Springboks with distinction. He was outstanding at the base of the scrum, and his box kicks ensured that the Boks played most of their rugby in the opponents’ half.

He had an impressive haul of medals at the end of his career, winning the Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Tri Nations on more than one occasion. He was also crucial to Jake White’s plans in 2007 and won three titles in Japan.

3. Jean de Villiers (109 caps)

Who knows how many Tests the former Springbok captain would have played had he not had such rotten luck when it came to injuries? He missed the 2003 World Cup, and virtually the entire 2007 and 2015 campaigns through injury, but he still went on to play over 100 times for the Boks, making the No 12 jersey his own for a number of years.

He was someone most teams hated coming up against as he could spot a gap with the corner of his eye. He awareness in defence was also impressive, and his knack for scoring intercepted tries earned the moniker of “Intercept King” online.

2. Victor Matfield (127 caps)

For much of his 14-year international rugby career, Victor Matfield, the most capped Springbok, was the boss. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest locks to ever play the game and his lineout prowess was legendary. His ability to disrupt opposition lineouts was used well by Jake White and was one of the aspects the victorious 2007 campaign was built on.

Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf or Butch James at 10 would boot the ball into the opposition half, and Matfield would disrupt the lineout. After retiring from international rugby at 34 in 2011, he came back the following year and played for the men in green and gold for four more years.

1. Bryan Habana (124 caps)

Was there ever any doubt that No 1 would be anyone other than the speed merchant who shattered the Springbok try-scoring record with 67 tries? Bryan Habana was a regular fixture on the left wing for much of the 12 years he spent playing for the Springboks. He had the ability to get through the tightest of gaps, and his turn of pace made him difficult to catch.

His try-scoring record in his 124 caps makes him one of the deadliest finishers to ever play the game. Who can forget the 2007 World Cup semi-final against Argentina, where Habana turned on the magic with a brace of tries as the Boks booked their place in the final? Toulon saw his value in 2013 when they made him one of the highest-paid rugby players in the world at the time. And he did race against a cheetah and jet during his illustrious career. 

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@KingBiyela

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