20 years later: Andre Vos fondly remembers great Cats side
JOHANNESBURG - It’s exactly 20 years ago to the day that the Cats featured in the Super 12 semi-finals for the first time, and what a star-studded team it was that ran out in Canberra against the Brumbies.
Only three starters in the Laurie Mains-coached team didn’t play for the Springboks; the rest all wore the green and gold and many of the squad members, including in the coaching staff, went on to achieve other significant milestones after hanging up their boots.
The combination side - made up of players from the Lions and the Cheetahs - was led by Rassie Erasmus, who’d go on to coach the World Cup winning Bok side last year and is now the Director of Rugby in South Africa. The team’s physiotherapist was Jacques Nienaber, who was the Boks’ defence coach last year in Japan and is now the new Bok head coach.
Andre Vos, who wore the No 8 jersey throughout the 11-game campaign in 2000, was the newly-appointed Bok captain, while lock Johan Ackermann went on to coach the Lions to the Super Rugby final in 2016 and 2017.
The Cats of 2000 finished fourth on the log after their 11 games, winning seven and losing four. It was a bit of a topsy-turvy campaign as they beat the Bulls (23-19, Pretoria) and Stormers (22-18, Joburg) first-up, but then lost all four their matches in Australasia - to the Waratahs (51-16), Highlanders (33-31), Hurricanes (29-23) and Brumbies (64-0).
Mains’ team returned to South Africa and then won five on the trot to qualify for the semi-finals. They beat the Sharks (28-27 in Durban), Crusaders (54-31 in Joburg), Reds (36-32 in Bloemfontein), Blues (34-27 in Joburg) and the Chiefs (53-3 in Bloemfontein).
Vos said he had only fond memories of the Cats. “We had so many good times I enjoyed those years,” said Vos, who now lives in Cape Town and works in the financial sector.
“I was happy to play under Rassie in those days. I knew then already he would go on to achieve great things in the game.
Rassie Erasmus has become a hit on Twitter. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
“But there were so many guys in that team who went on to achieve their goals and dreams. So many guys had played for the Boks or would go on to do so it was a great team.”
The backline that ran out in the semi-final was: Thinus Delport, Chester Williams, Grant Esterhuizen, Japie Mulder, Jannie van der Walt, Louis Koen and Werner Swanepoel. Hennie le Roux and Dean Hall played some of the games in the regular season.
The forwards were just as star-studded: Vos, Andre Venter, Erasmus, Jannes Labuschagne, Ackermann, Willie Meyer, Leon Boshoff and Marius Mostert.
“The Cats teams of 1998 and 1999 got smashed and then Laurie Mains, the New Zealander who’d coached the All Blacks at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, arrived for the 2000 season,” remembered Vos.
“I’d just got back from my stint with Queensland where I’d played for a while. At one of our first team meetings, Laurie got up and said he had only one rule; that no individuals would ruin his team meaning he picked the team and no-one in the team was bigger than the collective.
“He got us working hard and focused us on doing the basics really well. He made it clear that the reason New Zealand teams were so good was because they did the basics first, and they did them well. Yes, the New Zealand teams scored spectacular tries, many of them after many phases of play and from long range, but the basics first had to be in place.”
After playing 33 Tests between 1999 and 2001, Vos retired from international rugby at the young age of 27 in 2002 and left Joburg for London where he ran out for Harlequins for several seasons.
“It was nice to leave the game on my terms,” said the now 45-year-old. “I was still playing good rugby and never wanted to hang around for too long. I enjoyed all my rugby; at EP, in Joburg, in Queensland and in London. And playing for the Boks was special.”
Vos said he was thrilled to see Erasmus take charge of South African rugby and felt only good times lay ahead. “I take my hat off to Rassie; how he turned things around last year. There was so much talent in that team, but there was so little belief in the players, but he built up the players’ confidence and just look at what they achieved. Rassie got them believing in themselves and the squad as a whole.
“The way that the Bok team played in that final in Japan last year went beyond what we all expected. It was so exciting and I am convinced that if Rassie and Jacques can build on what was achieved last year, exciting times lie ahead for Bok rugby.”
For the record, the Eddie Jones-coached Brumbies team lost the 2000 Super Rugby final to the Crusaders in Canberra, 20-19.