Age is but a number for star veterans
Brits’ impact at the Bulls (and for the Springboks) last season is well documented and now the same Pretoria franchise, the Lions and the Stormers, and to a lesser extent the Sharks, hope to score big from the signing of players very much in the latter stages of their careers.
Brits, now 38, has finally called it a day, but the Bulls believe flyhalf Morne Steyn, at 35, lock Juandre Kruger (34) and Josh Strauss at 33 - all signed from clubs in Europe to play Super Rugby this year - will help rejuvenate the three-time competition winners.
At the Lions, tighthead Jannie du Plessis (37) and loose-forwards Willem Alberts (35) and Jaco Kriel (30) have been brought in - also from abroad - to add depth and experience to a young squad that has lost several key players in the last two years.
The Stormers have backed former Wales international Jamie Roberts (33) to teach and guide the plethora of young backs in their squad, while at the Sharks, hooker Craig Burden (34) and outside back JP Pietersen (33) are deemed good enough to still play top-flight rugby, and why not?
I’m all for these so-called veterans (or oldies) returning from playing all over the world to play in South Africa again. While there are some out there who’d call these players has-beens and over-the-hill, I’d like to think they still have a huge role to play in rugby and can be of benefit to the game in this country.
Several of the players mentioned here performed superbly in week one of this year’s Super Rugby competition, among them Steyn, Strauss and Roberts. And while some will argue these men are keeping out young, promising players from developing and making a name for themselves, the reality is that the coaches will always only pick the best to play.
I can tell you no coach will pick an older player above a younger one if the rookie is better and will help his team win games. But just think of the learning a guy like Aphelele Fassi will do by spending time with World Cup winner Pietersen, how Lions rookies Hacjivah Dayimani and Vincent Tshituka will grow and become better by having Kriel and Alberts around to share their thoughts on the game.
And, just imagine what a guy like Roberts, who’s played all over the world, will be able to share with the promising centre Rikus Pretorius (21) and even flyhalf Damian Willemse.
The reality is in professional sport winning is all that matters. And coaches and unions will do just about anything to get those positive results; their careers and futures are largely dependent on it. And if they believe certain players can help them win, and those older players are good enough to still play, why shouldn’t they pick them and have them in their squads?
At the end of the day, these “oldies” still have to produce the goods. If Steyn doesn’t deliver for the Bulls, the man next in line, Manie Libbok, will be picked.@jacq_west