Cape Town – Some of them were building decent international reputations already, but World Cup 1995 really underlined to the rugby planet the qualities of Springboks like Os du Randt, Mark Andrews, Chester Williams and Joost van der Westhuizen.
They, and other yeoman individuals in the green-and-gold ranks, were a poignant part of history as the Boks clinched the Webb Ellis Cup in their first crack at the tournament - and fittingly on home soil - after missing the first two World Cups due to the embers of apartheid.
Some 28 years onward, in 2023, it now seems massively likely, with the country revealed on Tuesday as preferred host candidate over Ireland and France, that South Africa will be opening its doors to the premier event again.
There is one RWC - Japan 2019 - still to precede it, of course, and much water will pass beneath the bridge in Bok personnel terms before we get that anticipated second hosting some six years from here.
But assuming World Cup 2023 is finally nailed down for SA in two weeks’ time (November 15), it would represent a tremendous fillip and incentive for our playing pool, both reasonably established and emerging.
It will come too far up the drag - unless some of them are unusually dogged, enduring “old crocks” a la Victor Matfield - for men like Francois Louw and Tendai Mtawarira (both presently 32), Duane Vermeulen and JP Pietersen (both 31), and Frans Steyn (30).
The Japanese World Cup in the interim also shapes up as a potential Test - or at least RWC-level - swansong for players like present first-choice captain Warren Whiteley (30).
Nevertheless, there are plenty of roughly “mid-twenties” players in Allister Coetzee’s current plans who probably fancy they have two World Cup stabs still in the tank: into that category would fall Eben Etzebeth, Marcell Coetzee and Siya Kolisi (all 26), Steven Kitshoff, Lood de Jager and Pieter-Steph du Toit (25) and naturally also younger stars like the Du Preez twins, Jean-Luc and Dan (both 22).
But there will be plenty of other up-and-coming players who should be conveniently at, or fast reaching, their primes by the time RWC 2023 comes along - many of them not yet in the Bok mix.
While mindful that an awful lot can change in six years - disappointingly unfulfilled promise, new wunderkinds bounding to the fore - here’s my suggested list of some possible poster boys for the Springboks in the likelihood that RWC 2023 does, in fact, take place on our shores:
Ox Nche (currently 22)
Already one of the most dynamic, rampaging and hard-tackling props in open play in the country, the Cheetahs favourite only needs to stiffen his scrummaging prowess – time remains on his side? – to become a major factor at Test level, even if quality loose-heads are not exactly in short supply (the bulkier, same-aged Thomas du Toit is also a significant future obstacle).
Wilco Louw (23)
Just one (very encouraging) cap as a sub against the All Blacks off the bench, but the WP powerhouse at No 3 confirmed his enormous potential, in a once-problematic position for the Boks, with his quite towering Currie Cup final performance.
Damian Willemse (19)
I have already compared him to legendary Welsh flyhalf Phil Bennett for his sublime footwork, but this still-teenage, Newlands-based gem also offers so many other attributes. He could become a really influential game-breaker at all levels … perhaps from two or three berths in a backline.
Ruben van Heerden (20)
He only turned 20 a few days ago, but this robust, yet mobile unit of some 115kg (and counting, presumably!) seems well set to maintain the lofty heritage in lock play in Pretoria.
Handre Pollard (23)
Yes, I did say Handre Pollard. He will still only be around 29, come RWC 2023, and just because he has come back tentatively so far from serious injury woes, doesn’t mean his class – my, don’t some critics have short memories? -- will fritter away. He remains an enormous, advantage line-testing talent, whether it be at No 10 or possibly 12.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe (24)
It’s true, he hasn’t quite delivered on expectation (at least to those who enthusiastically rate him) again in 2017. But if this racehorse finally realises how gifted he is as a roaming loosie, there is still a fine chance he can light up two World Cups.
S’bu Nkosi (21)
Bok coach Coetzee did confirm as he named his Bok party for Europe that the young Sharks winger with the tree-trunk legs would have been right in the mix, but for untimely injury. He’ll be back, hopefully fresh, in 2018.
Marco Jansen van Vuren (21)
Lots of rough edges, for sure, but here’s a potential Joost van der Westhuizen scrumhalf clone in playing style and physical proportions (a pretty lanky 1.88m), and I suspect he might be ready for fairly generous doses of Super Rugby exposure for the Lions next season.
Malcolm Marx (23)
Considering his rise this season, not much needs to be added here. Looks a proper world-class factor at hooker for South Africa. Psst, he will still be inside the 30-mark at RWC 2023, and presumably with vast experience by then …
Warrick Gelant (22)
If Gelant gets maiden opportunities for the Boks on the end-of-year trek, he also has the chance to revitalise presently unremarkable (with due respect to solid Andries Coetzee) fullback play by the country. A swerving, exciting runner, both Japan and then RWC 2023 seem well within his grasp.
Curwin Bosch (20)
Renewed angst over the slightly-built Sharks utility back’s defensive game in the Currie Cup final, but he’s still wet behind the ears and an undoubted attacking phenomenon with a forceful kick, into the bargain. The Boks traditionally like a dominant boot in their ranks, remember.
Hacjivah Dayimani (19)
Glimpses of amazing athletic ability and peripheral awareness in Currie Cup exposure this year, and this loose forward of joint Nigerian and SA parentage, who has represented SA Schools, appears to have a glittering future if expectation doesn’t become too burdensome.
Juarno Augustus (19)
A No 8 who reminds of Toutai Kefu or Wycliff Palu in build and tackle-busting potential, “Trokkie” might just make his big Super Rugby breakthrough for the Stormers in 2018, despite their relative abundance of loosie stocks. He was the official best player of the latest World Rugby Under-20 Championship, in Georgia, and still qualifies to play at Under-21 level next season.
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