Brüssow: Juan's loss is massive
Johannesburg - Provincial pride has nothing to do with Heinrich Brüssow's concerns that he will not have his Free State skipper at his side during the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
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Brüssow, a player Springbok coach Peter de Villiers believes will be central to his plans, said this week that the absence of Juan Smith was a far bigger setback than most people realised.
"We are going to miss having an influential player and leader like Juan at the World Cup," said Brüssow.
"He makes a huge impact on the field, and although we will all be giving it our best from the word go, he is one of those players that is also a great role model and someone I have a lot of respect for."
Nonetheless, while the facial scars Brüssow has to show for last week's 18-5 victory over the All Blacks serves as evidence of his commitment on the field, he was quick to point out that the men selected to replace Smith are no different in that regard.
"Willem (Alberts) and Flo (Francois Louw) are also great players and they too know what will be expected from them," he said.
In a squad that features no less than 18 World Cup winners, the slightly greener Springbok loose-forwards had noticeably broader smiles when SARU president Oregan Hoskins presented them with their ceremonial World Cup caps in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
For the baby-faced assassin of world rugby, it was a very proud moment, even though it could not be compared to his debut at Twickenham in 2008.
"Running out in a Springbok jersey for the first time is definitely the highlight of my career to date, so receiving that cap was very special, but in a different way," said Brüssow.
"Playing in a World Cup is every player's dream from a very young age."
Leading up to the world spectacle, the South African rugby fraternity held their breaths as Brüssow had to recover from a knee ligament injury that kept him out of action for more than a year.
He then made his return for the Cheetahs during this year's Super Rugby competition, but was soon sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Finally, after another frustrating stint on the sidelines, he was included in the Free State squad's Currie Cup team that - with his help - secured an emphatic 28-22 victory over Western Province in Bloemfontein earlier this month.
The fetcher made his return from the bench and his usual ball-stealing abilities were a prominent feature of the final 20 minutes of the match.
The following week he was selected to start against the Wallabies in Durban, and his class was again a key ingredient to the Springboks' final Tri-Nations match of the year in Port Elizabeth.
It is also interesting to note he has yet to lose a match against the mighty All Blacks in four outings.
Despite steadily stealing the spotlight from some of the more seasoned Bok flankers, Brüssow would still not be told that his place in the starting line-up for the team's opening match against Wales was guaranteed.
"I don't know what the loose-trio combination for the first game will be, but that is irrelevant because I have played many matches with Schalk (Burger), Willem (Alberts), Pierre (Spies) and even Danie (Rossouw)," said Brüssow.
"My first priority is to ensure that I do what the team expects of me when I get the opportunity."