Overseas Boks: who still cuts it?

2015-11-11 13:30
Victor Matfield (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Strange as it may seem considering the hype beforehand over “emotional Springbok swansongs” in the bronze playoff match at RWC 2015, only one member of the squad at the tournament, captain Jean de Villiers, has officially confirmed his Test retirement.

Several younger Boks spoke beforehand of their desire to beat Argentina – a task duly achieved – as a fitting send-off for senior players bidding farewell to the green-and-gold cause.

Almost two weeks on from the end of the World Cup, however, it is still only the luckless De Villiers, injured again in just the second tournament match against Samoa, who has definitely bowed out after 109 appearances since 2002.

Perhaps influenced by the state of flux surrounding embattled coach Heyneke Meyer, the likes of Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger and Bryan Habana intriguingly haven’t yet pulled the plug publicly on their illustrious Bok careers.

The majority of “older” Boks who took part in their hot-and-cold RWC 2015 campaign are now exclusively foreign-based and there have been some pleas back home for only locally-stationed players to be chosen for South Africa henceforth – a tricky matter considering the ever-shrinking strength of the rand against other currencies which hardly helps keeps the best players rooted here.

Excluding Japanese Top League representatives Burger and JP Pietersen, who still have expected Super Rugby loyalties to the Stormers and Sharks respectively in 2016, here is a player-by-player assessment of the possible, ongoing value to the Bok cause of now fully overseas-contracted members of the recent World Cup squad:

Victor Matfield (Northampton Saints, age 38)

There’s a bit of a giggle on the rugby grapevine that Big Vic might have a fifth World Cup stab in 2019 ... aged 42! You have to assume it is no more than a joke, don’t you? It is true that the second-row likes of Brad Thorn (NZ) and Simon Shaw (England) played franchise rugby to around 40, but their Test careers had firmly ended by then. The rise and rise of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager means the door really ought to be locked now to Matfield at SA level after a record 127 caps.

Verdict: Past Bok sell-by date.

Schalk Brits (Saracens, age 34)

Still looked a livewire in occasional RWC exposure, in fairness. But the Boks have to start looking to the long-term future in the berth, whilst the present still looks pretty assured in the hands of Bismarck du Plessis (see below) and Adriaan Strauss.

Verdict: Past Bok sell-by date.

Fourie du Preez (Suntory Sungoliath, age 33)

Came within whisker of confirming retirement after his facial knock in the RWC semi-final against New Zealand, saying it was “likely” he’d played his last Bok game. Perhaps had to be patched up more than we realise to play the tournament, yet managed to still look a class act. Bit of a concern that younger No 9s in SA still seem so far behind him.

Verdict: At Bok sell-by date ... OK, almost.

Bryan Habana (Toulon, age 32)

Forgettable closing game against Pumas, but otherwise a sprightly, alert and industrious presence throughout World Cup. Having a crack now at SA Sevens role in Olympics, though hinted heavily to Sport24 during RWC that his Bok hunger remains.

Verdict: Perhaps another two productive Bok years?

Jannie du Plessis (Montpellier, age 32)

Little doubt now that Frans Malherbe, some eight years his junior, has seized pole position in the Bok tighthead battle. There are other promising ones on the rise domestically, but if Malherbe were to go down injured during Test season next year, Du Plessis still shapes as a pretty comforting alternative; had spells of really good rugby in 2015.

Verdict: Not quite at Bok sell-by date.

Bismarck du Plessis (Montpellier, age 31)

Has just completed a year (and World Cup) in which he remained a little short of his best known levels, but is still a class act and revered physical presence in Bok side. An example of the type of experience the team will still need, moving forward.

Verdict: Still chance of reaching RWC 2019.

Willem Alberts (Stade Francais, age 31)

Has just begun three-year deal with the French club, pretty much confirming end of his Super Rugby life in SA. Don’t totally write off any ongoing Bok involvement, especially if there are suddenly mass casualties at loose forward in 2016, but the Bone Collector will probably only get more injury-prone himself with advancing age, and SA is traditionally blessed with great loosie depth.

Verdict: Past Bok sell-by date.

Ruan Pienaar (Ulster, age 31)

Simply, not enough of a game-breaker on evidence of latest World Cup, and also a bit before it. Stays a popular presence at his Irish club, where his game is well-suited, but you have to think it’s end of Bok road for him after 88 appearances.

Verdict: Past Bok sell-by date.

Morne Steyn (Stade Francais, age 31)

Two words suggest he has also had his Bok swansong: Pollard and Lambie. Both pivots are considerably younger than the metronomic place-kicker, and potentially with their best years not yet witnessed. Their greater all-round abilities will be vital if the Boks are to find a brave new way of playing.

Verdict: Past Bok sell-by date.

Zane Kirchner (Leinster, age 31)

Like Steyn, considered a fairly robotic rugby player – efficiency hugely eclipsing any X-factor -- and debatable presence in Meyer’s RWC 2015 squad. Hard to see him being summoned from afar for Boks next year. It’s time the national side began examining the credentials of exciting rookies like the Bulls’ fleet-footed 20-year-old Warrick Gelant, and the lightweight but often devastating Cheslin Kolbe.

Verdict: Past Bok sell-by date.

Francois Louw (Bath, age 30)

Among the premier turnover engineers at the World Cup, the English Premiership and ex-Stormers star did more than enough to suggest he wants to add significantly to his 43 Test caps. A possible Bok captain from 2016, too ...

Verdict: Still chance of reaching RWC 2019.

Duane Vermeulen (Toulon, age 29)

After some seven yeoman years at Newlands, the strapping No 8 embarks on a fresh club challenge in France. But he will remain one of the most desirable, indispensible Bok call-ups from foreign climes, of that you can be sure.

Verdict: Still fresh, very influential; should go through to one more World Cup.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  victor matfield  |  rugby

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